Published April 1, 2017
In this edition:
The Summary Version:
2016 Financial Report
The Happy Berry losses were significant in 2016. A discussion of what to do follows. It is a struggle to be financially sustainable while still maintaining our purposes of being a food source for our community, being environmentally beneficial and seeking happiness through significant relationships.
Freeze and Crop Report
Pruning is almost done and not a moment too soon. After the recent freezes the news is ... Bottom line we still have 75 to 80% of the blackberry crop and 85 to 90% of the blueberry crop. We are very fortunate as massive fruit losses are being reported in the southeast including blueberries. More details on the crop follow further in the newsletter.
We have 46 new Rhode Island Red Chickens. Venus and Saturn seedless grapes are being transitioned to Joy and Hope varieties, out of Dr. John Clark's program at the University of Arkansas. We have visions of even better quality! We are discussing the possibility of adding biochar to our cultural practices. Biochar (composted charcoal which sequesters carbon for 1000's of year) would be a means for sequestering carbon from our pruning waste stream for thousands of years instead of 3 to 5 years. It also hoped that waste heat from the kiln can be used to generate electricity to help defray farm electrical expenses. A more detailed discussion follows at the end of the full newsletter.
The Extra Details:
I, debated whether to put this in the newsletter. I decided to do it even though...Well, it is embarrassing. We lost a significant amount... $33,000 in 2016 and for farmers that pride ourselves as being sustainable... It accentuates we are not sustainable. We pretty much sold out of blueberries (volume off by 20% due environment), blackberries (volume off 40%), muscadines (volume off 25% due to vine killing freezes). persimmons (volume small because trees are young) and figs (There were not many figs as a result of cold injury in 2014 and 2015). We had seedless table grapes that we did not successfully market (mostly Saturn but some Jupiter and mostly because the volume was so high so quick).
The loss begs the question of analysis of what to do.
First issue is diversification. Blackberries and blueberries are high risk crops due to spring freezes that have been accentuated by global warming. We are addressing this through crop diversification, ie. Grapes, Figs, Muscadines, persimmons and Mulberries all of which bloom after danger of frost is generally past. Although Navaho blackberries are susceptible to orange rust they have a higher chilling requirement (800 hrs) which makes them a better match for our bioregion by not coming out of dormancy too early, thus would be less susceptible to spring frosts. Growing pines as passive frost protection as well as cooling. We are continuing this vein of diversificaation with the addition of European type chestnuts (a carbohydrate source and much sweeter), pussy willows as a winter crop and tea plants for you to make your own tea.
Second is the issue of price. Generally the family is adamant, as we believe it is very important to provide reasonably priced food to our community, about not increasing prices. Our cultural practices are environmentally improving but they require greater inputs in terms of labor and technology. Socially the fact that we only sell directly to the consumer is also more labor intensive but includes benefits of having a personal relationships with our customers which is happiness. To quote somebody "If you love what you do you don't have to work a day in your life." The question of whether we raise prices requires a family discussion. We note that local strawberries went up about 12% in 2017.
Third is the question of how to better maximize the harvest. We grade all our berries. From the graded berries we developed three categories: excellent, baking/cooking berries and bad berries that are disease or insect infested. Previously we jammed some of the baking berries and the rest just went to be recycled. From another grower we got the idea selling frozen bags of berries. We tried it on a small scale this winter, and we sold out of both the frozen black and blue berries. We know we could do the same thing with grapes. We did it personally for ourselves. Frozen Jupiter grapes are 10 times better than grapes we get from long term storage, Chile and elsewhere that are in big box stores. We need to "run the numbers" on this issue.
Blueberries and Seedless grapes are done. Blackberries floracanes were removed last summer and the primocanes were trained to the "V" trellis end of summer and early fall. They made a little growth last fall as we were watering through the 14 week drought. They could stand a little trimming and training but not sure we will get it done in time. Muscadines are about half done but they are still dormant and we are focused on them. We did not get done before bud break last year and reduced vigor was obvious in those we pruned after growth resumed in 2016. In 2016 we were unable to manage the deer in the dwarf black mulberries, despite investment in "Plot Saver Tape" and stinky goo that we put on multiple times and $850 investment in automated deer audio device making a combination of deer distress sounds and various predator sounds, so the trees actually shrunk in size. The trees have been trimmed, blue tubes replaced and each individual row has been wrapped in a 4 foot orange plastic construction fence. Goji berries still need trimming. The willows were coppiced in time so that we had good air drainage during the past 6 freezes.
We have had six freezes as of March 26. The good news is there are no more freezes forecasted for 10 days out (April 6). But we are not in the clear yet.
To try and protect the harvest from the freezes, we ran the wind machine to harvest heat from the inversion off Lake Keowee three times. March 13 was an advective freeze but the low appeared to be about 27 locally and damage was minimal in both the black and blue berries despite stigma showing in a lot of Climax and Premier blueberry flowers. March 14-15 was the most damaging with a low of 22 at our Weather Underground station... out of reach of our wind machine. Other local stations reported temps of 16 degrees. Wind settled at 11:30 on the 14th and our wind machine was going by 12:15. As of March 25 we have had 1067 chill units which was more than adequate for the year but down from the long term average. We had 564 chill units as of January 4, 2017 which was enough for all our blackberry and blueberry varieties. Since January 1 we have had 644 Growing Degree Units (max +min/2-50) verses long term average of 374 and 150 more than last year.
The detailed report on Blackberries
We still have 75 to 80 % of the blackberry crop. The breakdown by variety is:
Von - 100% Remaining; provided brown discoloration in pith does not limit growth
Chester - 100% Remaining; They do not bloom until May
Prime Ark 45 - 90% Remaining; This early bloomer surprised me! Anything open and or king bud at 1/4 inch was damaged but given the number flower bud coming... it looks good
Kiowa - 85% Remaining; We loss the king flower but all laterals look good provided pith discoloration is not a factor and there are a lot of buds coming
Chickasaw - 85% Remaining; same observation as Kiowa
Ouachita - 95% Remaining; A few king flowers damaged and pith discoloration noted
Natchez - 20% Remaining; maybe...many buds that had just started to break (1/8 inch in growth) were brown in the middle many king and lateral buds damaged and if laterals were alive the rachis looked like more than the pith was damaged (If we can afford it this one is gone)
The detailed report on Blueberries
In late summer and fall of 2016 we irrigated and sprayed for leaf diseases and we believe as a consequence we had tremendous fruit bud set over all. AFter the freeze damage, it looks to me like we still have 85 to 90 percent of a full crop. The breakdown by variety is:
Centurion - 100% Remaining, the buds were swollen with just few with flower definition...we have never loss a crop of centurions in 20 years for growing them
Powderblue - 85% Remaining; Anything with the stigma showing was dead
Tifblue - 98% Remaining; only a few with stigma showing but lots of good flower definition
Onslow - 80% remaining; mainly those with stigma well developed
Montgomery - 80% remaining; about like Onslow
Delight - 80% Remaining; surprise...big berries but this one is being phased out due to leaf disease and the need for post harvest disease control
Climax - 50% remaining; maybe... and we have lot of these bushes susceptible to leaf disease which requires post harvest disease control
Premier - 50% remaining; maybe
We have added 46 new chickens to our flock that has down to about 35 more senior chickens. They are about 8 weeks old and should start producing eggs about the middle of June.
We have started to transition from the variety Venus to Joy and Saturn to Hope in the seedless table grapes. We are planting Dog Ridge root stock next to the Mars grapes so we can inlay them to the Mars. The reason for this is grape root borer(GRB). Dog Ridge is about 50% less susceptible according to Florida research and another grower who uses it said he has no problem GRB. We have been unable to get any nursery to provide anything but own rooted plants. Chemical control did not work for us. Mating disruption using pheromones at every plant after 3 years has reduced vine losses from 30 + % annually to about 8% annually, still unacceptable. We are hopeful that pheromones plus rootstock will reduce vine losses to insignificant.
We are excited about the possibility of adding biochar to our cultural practices. This mean we will be sequestering carbon from our pruning waste stream for 1000's of years instead of 3 to 5 years. It also hoped that waste heat from the kiln can be used to generate electricity to help defray farm electrical expenses. To do so we will need to build a biochar kiln with a generation system. Dr. Mocko of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering at Clemson University has volunteered the assistance of a senior Mechanical Engineering Class. The class is lead by Dr.s Dan Fant and S. Kulkarni. They have divided the class into 3 teams that are competing to create the best design. If any of you are interested in attending the final exam please contact me. I will provide background information. Final plan(s) and budget will be put on our web site and be made available to all. Ultimately we plan to crowd source the building of the kiln.
As always, we thank you for your support! We would not be here without you, and hope you are looking forward to the coming season as much as we are!
Walker for The Happy Berry Bunch
Published January 15, 2017
We have cuts ready for you to make arrangements, cuttings so you can grow-your-own and plants already potted.
We will be open the following Saturdays with a small display:
January 14, and 21;
February 4 and 18;
March 4, 11, 18 and 25:
and April 1,8, 15 until they run out.
You can call us anytime and we will arrange to meet you at the farm porch. We may be in the field working...we can coordinate by phone or texting... 864 350 9345.
We will also be at the following Home and Garden Shows:
January 27-29 ...Savannah, Georgia at the Savannah Low Country Home and Garden Show at The Civic Center, just a short ride across the river in a tug boat from downtown Savannah
February 10-12 Anderson Home and Garden Show at the Civic Center in Anderson, South Carolina
February 11 the Master Gardener Symposium at the TD Convention Center in Greenville, South Carolina
February 25 -26 Asheville Build and Remodel Home and Garden show at the Ag Center near the Asheville Airport Just off of I 26.
March 25 (tentative) at the Anderson Library "How-To fair from 10 till 3:30 we will be demonstrating how to root and plant pussy willows also with willow cuts for dried arrangements. This is a walk by program, so bring your questions.
If you need a program on willows and it does not conflict with theses dates call us(864 350 9345) we would love to help you!
Thanks for your support in fixing/sequestering carbon and protecting from erosion our streams with willow trees!
Published January 2, 2017
How did we do in 2016?
When we are out-and-about this is the most common question we get. This is always a difficult question to answer because it is multi-faceted. The success of any business involves three bottom lines...They are social, environmental and economic.
It was a great year! We got to feel good growing food for our community, having fun participating in local farmers markets, and providing an opportunity for the community to harvest- their-own at a price that generally beats the big box stores while visiting with family and friends. We made lots of new friends and got to share hugs and well wishes with returning customers. We felt like we made a contribution to our community. We appreciate your support, look forward to serving you in the future and would love your suggestions on how we can do it better.
For us global warming has become a real threat. The number of days over 95 degrees has increased from 10 or so to over 20. Hot days (days over 85 degrees) have increased in April and May. Our droughts have increased in length and frequency. Our number of chill hours is declining each year. Bud break in the spring is occurring earlier and as a consequence there is a longer period of exposure to killing frosts. The frequency of violent thunder storms and extended wet events is increasing. On a happier note, we are excited that we have taken proactive steps to adapt and mitigate environmental exposure.
Adaptation: We are diversifying our fruit crops to those that are less subject to vagaries of chilling and spring frost injury by blooming later. The pine trees you see in the field will provide passive frost protection and evaporative cooling for pick-your-own folks as well as the plants. Blackberry flowers, for example, are damaged by temperatures over 85 degrees. (Who has not walked under the shade of a tree and not felt 10 degrees cooler? ) The pines also slow the wind and reduce damage from violent storms. Walker is working on a biochar project proposal to improve the health of our soils. Biochar increases resilience by improving cation exchange (ability of the soil to retain and circulate plant nutrients), water holding capacity and microbial diversity that improves soil aggregation therefore less compaction. Healthy soils enable plants to be more resilient to weather extremes.
The pine trees are increasing our depth of carbon sequestration (our ability to store the carbon for 100 years or more in the tree) and the pine needles are providing more recalcitrant carbon (it doesn’t breakdown as easily) for soil incorporation by soil fauna. We have eliminated pre-emergent herbicides thus have more organic trash under the bush which in turn means more diverse fauna under the plants that reduces pest pressures. The trash under the plants means even more carbon, better water percolation, thus drought resilience and less runoff thus less pollution. Similarly, the biochar will provide recalcitrant carbon that would be removed from the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years. He has run into some engineering problems with the biochar project that maybe one of you could help him. Please contact him 864-350-9345
This year we had a good crop year... but plant damage 1- from two previous seasons of winter extreme temperatures causing damage to plants, especially blackberries, muscadines and figs; and 2- leaf disease and resultant defoliation in 2014/5 due to extended wet events meant reduced blueberry flower bud set... did reduce the overall 2016 harvest volume. The 2016 droughts meant large water bills. We watered post harvest so that we would get good flower bud set for 2017. Even with the irrigation, the end of season, 14 week drought, killed many plants in the south valley where we had not installed irrigation. Replacement plants are mostly ordered. There have been several equipment failures at critical times which put stress on other equipment which then also failed under the added stress. We can’t get parts or repairs done quickly enough which resulted in additional capital expenses and/or higher labor, and/or things just not getting done (which will cost down the road).
We haven’t done the final accounting, but "back of the envelope figures" tell us we will have to reduce expenses as well as borrow money to make it to next season. So in 2017 we will be playing catch-up as well as paying interest on borrowed money.
The good news is that, right now, volume is looking very good for next year. Everything planted with irrigation is looking good. We have learned from our mistakes and have plans/strategies in place to address our major threats. Those temperature extremes (both warm and cold) were associated with windless nights and in the future, we will run the wind machine as yet another adaptation strategy to combat mid-winter cold extremes. To combat the leaf disease, we are gradually changing blueberry varieties to those that are resistant to leaf defoliating diseases. We are investing in installing irrigation in the south valley as I write this.
Decorative Branches & Stems begin this month!
Recently a friend shared with me a blog that I thought was very interesting http://deborahsilver.com/blog/cut-branches-for-winter-pots/. It is worth the visit for winter decorative ideas. Our Red and yellow stick dogwood will be in short supply this year, not sold out but close. We will endeavor to plant more. We will have plenty of red curly and of course the "darling" of them all the woolly & silver willows will be in good supply too. We have a few Red Curly now and will cut more later. We still have a small amount of Red Stick Dogwood to cut. We will start harvesting and selling our woody florals after the first of the year. We are also rooting two varieties of weeping willow...we have had many requests... but give us time to get them going. In addition to selling cuttings, we also have willows ready for planting out.
Eggs, Jams & -NEW THIS YEAR- Frozen Blue- & Blackberries
We still have eggs and jams for sale on the porch. We have added this year frozen blueberries and blackberries in a small freezer on the porch. If you like this we could expand the volume for the winter of 2017. The prices are on the bags in the freezer. You can leave money in the honor-system/money box if we are not there.
In the Fields
Blueberry Pruning: We will start pruning the blueberries with the oldest bushes January 2 or 3. (The picture adjacent was taken 11-28-16). The pine trees have really grown and we will be removing limbs at the same time to allow more sunshine, yet keep some shade. If you have bushes at home now is the time to prune them. If not sure how to prune, visit with us and we will teach you. Your blackberries should have been pruned by now, and if not done yet, get them first. You can grind the stems up with your lawn mower. That goes for blueberry prunings too, except for the larger/thicker part of the stems
Pruning grapes, muscadines and figs will come later: We will start them in March. We are taking out 16 of our Venus plants and replacing them with "Joy" another dark blue seedless grape. We are taking out one row of the Saturn grapes and replacing them 47 "Hope" a green seedless grape. Both of these new varieties are out of University of Arkansas’s grape breeding program. In addition to high quality, sweeter and more flavorful, we hope they are more tolerant of leaf and fruit diseases.
Blackberries: The plantings of Von and Chester blackberry have done well and we should have a decent crop in 2017. The ten rows of Chester on the back hill in back of the old house are gone. We have reduced the number of rows to five and are planting Matsomoto Fuyu Persimmon which is an October bearing seedless Persimmon. The new Fig orchard is looking very good and should have some figs in it this year.
Solar/Gravity Fed Irrigation: We are developing plans for a small solar/gravity fed irrigation system for the very expensive wells we dug several years ago. Do not know when we will be able to do it... but the plans will be "shovel ready" when the opportunity avails itself.
Thank you for your support!
We would not be here without YOU!
Wishing all a wonderful New Year!
Walker for The Happy Berry Bunch