FIVE POINTS TO PONDER
1) PH – WHY IT MATTERS!
1) 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. With asparagus, it 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 below 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 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 load soils are more difficult to impact pH due the soil structure and its particle size.
2) TRY SMALL FRUIT ALTERNATIVES
At Nourse Farms, we are routinely asked for suggestion for companion crops to strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. We have many options small fruit growers could implement for additional income: Asparagus – Most asparagus is sold as fresh produce, direct to consumer through roadside markets, farmers markets, local retailers, CSA, and pick-your-own. Asparagus is an excellent source of early income prior to strawberries and other traditional vegetable crops. Please see our Fall 2018 newsletter online or contact us for a comprehensive article on commercial asparagus production. Ribes & Elderberries - Currants and gooseberries are two small fruits that date to the 1600’s when they were brought over from Europe. In recent years, they have grown in popularity as a specialty fruit for fresh eating, juice and jams. Elderberry, long known and utilized in Europe and America, makes a great wine or jam and is prized for its medicinal qualities. Fruit holds up well both on the vine and in refrigeration. Plants are winter hardy, preferring a slight slope that is not southern facing. With niche markets such as customers of eastern Europe descent, it pays to have these berries as they are not readily available. Some states restrict growing currants and gooseberries – contact your local extension office or Department of Agriculture to determine if there are restrictions in your state.
3) AGRITOURISM ADVICE
It’s hard to find a small grower’s conference or trade publication where information on agritourism isn’t included in some aspect. Incorporating agritourism has many benefits for a farm business. Why? The answer is twofold. One, on-farm events are a great way to gain and keep customers. Two, agritourism can help with selling your product off the farm – farmers markets, roadside stands and local markets – by getting your name out there. Luckily, with agritourism, you don’t have to choose between nothing and becoming a huge rural entertainment center. There is a whole host of events varying in size to consider. In the fall alone, you can start small with a single short school tour during pumpkin season all the way to incorporating corn mazes, apple picking, cider press demonstrations and haunted hay rides open to the public. With the high popularity of fall agritourism, berries will add to visitors choice besides just the corn maze and apple picking – all adding to your cash flow by being a popular destination. Partnering with civic groups in your area like schools, boys & girls clubs, garden clubs, and senior centers is a great way to bring in business while assisting your community. Finally, there are many resources available pertaining to Agritourism. Sit in on a session at the next state conference you attend! Meanwhile, a wide variety of information is available on the internet. One excellent site, that includes over 50 podcasts highlighting different farms and details on their events that took place, is found at www.agritourismideas/podcasts.
4) STRAW MULCH VERSUS PLASTIC?
In recent years we have received an increasing number of calls from growers looking at alternatives to straw mulch. In our experience straw mulch provides the best overall winter protection however this is not the only reason we recommend it. Straw mulch will provide the most consistent crown temperatures during winter months, and it can also prevent early season growth caused by winter warmups. This is of benefit to a grower by preventing the plants from beginning growth when temperatures can still damage. By delaying spring growth the risk of frost damage to the flowers is reduced. Row covers can be an alternative to straw when good snow cover can be depended upon for the winter. Conversely, in the spring when there is little to no snow cover, using floating row cover can drive growth, increasing risk of frost damage and moving fruiting dates forward. Floating row cover can provide adequate winter protection in areas with more mild winters however care should be taken to ensure the cover is properly weighed down. If not done effectively the row cover can blow off exposing the plants to killing temperatures. You also must be prepared for situations where you may get 70°F temperatures for several days in February or early March. Row covers would need to be removed to prevent early season growth but then reset when the forecast calls for sub-zero temperatures. The second alternative to straw mulch is not mulching. This is a method we do not recommend as it relies entirely on heavy snow cover or winter temperatures over 20°F.
5) BENEFITS OF JOINING NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
As members of the North American Strawberry and North American Bramble Growers Associations, we are asking our growers to please consider joining one or both organizations. NASGA and NARBA have put together very informative grower conferences for many years with the “best of the best” of our country’s extension personnel and growers. The NARBA meeting, in association with the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable conference, will be held in Savannah, Georgia Jan. 9 – 11th. In Orlando, Florida from Feb 3 – 6th, NASGA will be meeting along with the 9th North America Strawberry Symposium. In addition, both organizations have contributed to and facilitated towards research efforts in every growers’ best interest. With all that is happening on the national stage that impacts our businesses both short and long term, joining these organizations efforts couldn’t come at a more important time. As a charter member of both of these organizations, we have experienced and appreciate the value and benefits of membership.
For details on the conferences, and membership information, please contact:
Debbie Wechsler, Executive Director
North American Bramble Growers Association (NARBA)
197 Spring Creek Rd Pittsboro, NC 27312
Email – email@example.com www.raspberryblackberry.com
Kevin Schooley North American Strawberry Growers Association (NASGA)
72 Julia Drive Welland,
Ontario, Canada L3C0E7
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org www.nasga.org