Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Preparing for Blue Berries on the Homestead

Well we are preparing the field for blue berry plants.  Why did we choose to plant blue berries you may ask.  I will tell you.  We were looking for a crop we could grow that is not your typical crop.  Something people would want but not many people are supplying.  After hours and hours on the Internet and reviewing extension suggestions for alternative cash crops I came up with blue berries.  The reasons are twofold.  Great potential for profit and increasing consumer demand.

Blue berries may be eaten fresh.  Made into jellies or jams, syrups and juices.  And also make a decent pie.  They freeze well and do not stick together when frozen unlike other berries.  Did I mention that they taste good?  There are also many well know health benefits from eating blue berries.

Health Benefits:
  • Blue berries aid in reducing belly fat
  • Blue berries are rich in antioxidants which naturally boost your immunity
  • Neutralize free radicals which may help reduce disease and fight the effects of aging
  • Preserve vision.  Blue berry extract contains compounds called anthocyanosides which may slow visual losses.  Better than eating carrots in my opinion!
  • Promotes the health of the urinary tract
  • May help heal and prevent neurotic disorders by preventing the deterioration and death of neurons.  Family history of Alzheimer's disease?  How about a cup of blue berries.
  • Combats heart disease by dissolving bad cholesterol and strengthens the heart muscle fibers
  • Combats constipation and aides in digestion due to the high fiber content
  • Blue berries contain certain chemicals that may repel certain types of cancer such as colon and liver cancer
  • And did I mention they taste so good? 

Selecting the Site

Blue berries require full sun and a well drained soil.  You can not expect a plant to do well in shade or in an area that remains wet.  Most of a blue berry plants roots are in the top 8 inches of soil so your planting area need not be deep but should be 2.5 to 3 feet wide.  You also want to keep the weeds away from your blue berry plants so they do not have to compete for water.  As you can see in the picture below the site we chose is a slightly sloping area with full sun.  The picture was taken at dusk and the area that we are planting receives full sun from sun up to sun down.

Preparing The Soil

You can not just go out to the local nursery, purchase your blue berry plants and stick them in a hole in the ground.  The soil has to be prepared first.  Blue berries require a very acidic soil.  If the ph of the soil is to high the plants will not do well or will more than likely die.  The recommended ph for blue berry plants is 4.8 but anywhere from 4.0 to 5.0 will work.  Very few spots in our location in the Ozarks have a naturally low ph so some amendment is probably going to be required.  Blue berry plants also like lots of water but do not like to be kept in a wet environment.  This means you want to water blue berry plants well but they must be in a well drained soil.  If your site is not well drained you may create a mound to plant the bush in as long as the plant is 6-8 inches above grade.

Methods of Lowering PH 

As discussed a blue berry plant has to have an acidic soil to grow and do well.  Does this mean you can go till up a spot, lower the ph and immediately plant the bushes?  You probably can but they may not do well.  It is more beneficial to prepare the soil 3-4 months before you plan on planting.  For you average home grower you would typically plant blue berry bushes in the spring.  For commercial growers it is recommended to plant in the fall.  There are several ways to lower the ph of your soil but they all begin by testing the ph of the soil.  In our case we purchased a ph tester from Ace Hardware.  It is simply a rod you stick into the soil with a meter attached.  I cost less than $10.00 and will more than pay for itself.

Using a wettable sulfur (greater than 90% sulfur) such as garden sulfur you will use 1 pound per 100 square feet on sandy soils to lower the ph by 1 unit such as from 7.0 to 6.0.  On soils containing silt, clay, or more than 2% organic matter it will take 2 pounds of Sulfur per 100 square feet of soil to lower the ph by 1 point.  You will need to re-test the ph and keep adding the sulfur until you reach the recommended level of 4.8.  If you absolutely must plant a blue berry bush without preparing the soil months in advance you can try using sphagnum peat moss.  Sphagnum peat moss is naturally acidic, organic, and has high water retention properties.  For each plant prepare an area 2.5 feet in diameter and one foot deep.  Remove 1/3 to 1/2 of the soil and work in an equal amount of pre-moistened peat moss and mix well. 

Another alternative method is using pine mulch.  Pine mulch is naturally acidic.  In this method you will use one part pine mulch, one part peat, and one part soil.  This will reduce the amount of peat moss your require which will reduce your costs and it will create and air and water channel.

As you can see we have started tilling the first row.  After we selected the site we ran a piece of string as a guide to keep the rows somewhat straight.  It is best for the rows to be oriented in a north to south fashion but if that is not possible you may orient the rows east to west.  The rows the berries will be planted in are four feet wide and there is ten feet in between rows.  This gives us a nice sod area to walk on for picking and we can easily keep it mowed to keep the weeds down.

Here you see we have completed four rows.  Each row is 200 feet long.  We will place the berry bushes in each row with a minimum of 4 feet between each plant. 

Our plan is to plant 200 blue berry plants that are 2-3 years old when we plant.  We will be able to start producing within a year or so and will plant additional plants each year to increase our production.  We plan to initially sell at farmers markets and possibly to some local stores.  As we add plants we will open a u-pick operation to increase our profits.  My next post will cover the actual preparation of the soil with the results of my soil test, addition of sulfur and peat.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Forquer Farm at Turkey Hollow

We have purchased our sanctuary!  This past August the family and I purchased five acres in Missouri.  It has long been our goal to at least get across the state line into Missouri to take advantage of the lower tax rates.  We have searched high and low and I have been scouring the Internet for the past several years searching for the perfect place.  About a year ago I saw and on-line ad for five acres with a creek.  I came back across the ad when I was going through old bookmarks and cleaning up my computer.  I clicked on the bookmark and the ad was still active.  I called the listing agent and was informed that lot had been purchased but they had another adjacent lot I may be interested in.  We got directions and drove out.  The kids and I were excited.  We thought from the first moment we saw it that it was the perfect spot!  Jennifer wasn't so excited about the thought of being 12 miles from town.  She was hesitant to say the least.  We decided we would wait and think about it prior to making any decision.  Jennifer said she prayed for a sign that it was the right thing to do.  We received a call from the agent the next day and she told us that the price had dropped from $22,000 to $15,000.  WOW!  I call that a sign!  Needless to say we immediately sent the down payment and closed within two weeks.

The place is what I have always wanted.  Five acres.  Half of it is open ground and the other half is forest with oak, birch, and hickory trees.  Wildlife is very abundant, we have seen turkey, deer, and other small game.  The nearest neighbor is almost a half mile away.  Perfect!

Since we purchased the land we had to purchase a lawn tractor.  And to get the lawn tractor out there we had to purchase a trailer.  I have been doing research on ways to make our land make us money and have come up with selling blue berries during the summer months when they are in season.  In the fall we will have pumpkins and gourds.  We have also talked about maybe growing mums to sell.  The possibilities are endless.  In preparation for planting the blue berry plants I purchased a rear tine tiller.  It is a Craftsman model and it works wonderful.  I tilled four rows four feet wide by 200 feet long.  I can honestly say it did not even feel like work.  The soil appears to be great with a good mix of sand and soil.  Blue berry's require a very acidic soil so we will have to work in oak leaves and use lots of peat moss when  we plant.  Otherwise they will not make it.  With the soil prepared I am researching nurseries to purchase the plants from. 

A good friend I used to work with came out and cut some brush from the front of our property along the road and he is coming out next week to put in our driveway.  We hope to have our house on the market by March 1 of next year and we will be putting in the electricity and water sometime early next spring as well.  As soon as our house sales we will be able to build our homestead.  The only problem is deciding the building method.  I have researched many:

  • Straw bale                                                             
  • Structural Insulated Panel             
  • Insulated Concrete Foam
  • Post and Beam
  • Log Cabin
  • Kit Home
  • Modular Home
I decided that given the fact I have had a spinal fusion and two shoulder surgeries I probably would not do to well with the straw bale idea.  I also and not convinced that I could get the level of water proofing we would need with our wet, humid climate.  Insulated Concrete foam would be nice.  It would be fireproof and nearly tornado proof but how much would I be able to really do myself?  Post and beam would be nice but it would require the purchase of a sawmill or finding timbers within a reasonable distance.  I could then incorporate the structural insulated panels for increased energy efficiency and this seems to be the direction we are leaning.  Whichever method of building we decide on we will definitely be incorporating passive solar features into the design and we will build only as big as we need.  Do we really need two living rooms, a seperate dining room, home office, and library?  The idea is to have a more open floor plan with more multi-use spaces versus rooms dedicated to a single purpose. 

View of property from the road
 Of course the girls have dreams of ponies and puppy's.  We are thinking about using goats to clear the underbrush from the forest.  Jennifer has always wanted some chickens so she will finally have her chance.  The only question is how to keep the coyotes away.  I have also read that geese are good to eat the weeds and bugs out of the berry patch.  There is so much to learn.  I really know nothing about farming but you have to start somewhere.  All we know is that we are finally fulfilling our dream of being in the country and being more self sufficient.  It will not be easy, it will not be cheap, and it may take longer than we can even imagine but I do know that we will be better off in the end!  When are you going to fulfill your dreams?

A view of our property