Berry Growers Sharing Great Ideas

Charlie O'DellBlackberry growers can learn so much from each other. Many berry farmers are inquisitive and also are very observant. They are open to trying new ideas and are willing to share their discoveries to help others. Our world would be a much better place if all were so unselfishly kind. Several years ago, blackberry growers from all over North America bonded together to form the North American Raspberry and Blackberry Growers Association (NARBA). They have a Google+ group that shares information with all members via email, websites, and other forms of social media.

Even old hands like me have learned so much, so I am always on the lookout for the next email. If you do not belong to NARBA, but you grow berries or are interested in becoming a raspberry and/or blackberry grower, you need to get with it. Join at the NARBA’s website at RaspberryBlackberry.com.

Unusual Way To Control SWD
A fine example of just such a grower is Robert Hays of Hays Berry Farms at Dumas, MS. He started growing a few blackberries back in 2000 just for family, then a few more each year for friends and neighbors. The word spread quickly throughout his area, so he planted more and more, unable to satisfy demand.

Now he has almost six acres of trellised, thornless blackberries and still cannot supply the demand. He markets his berries by U-Pick and through local farms markets, his on-farm retail market, and local processors.

When Robert discovered and shared with NARBA members that he could control late-summer spotted wing drosophila by installing 25 hummingbird feeders per acre in his six acres of blackberries, I contacted him to gather more information. He purchased 150 hummingbird feeders from Walmart, and filled each with plain, clear, sugar-water solution.

He reports that in his area, a pair of hummingbirds will hatch and rear up to five sets of their young each summer. While the young are too small to fly, he has seen the parents capture thousands of insects each day, including fruit flies, thrips, and aphids. The parents devour many, with most small-size insects taken to feed their young. He estimates there are more than 500 hummingbirds flying around his fields on picking days, some even landing briefly on pickers’ arms or hats.

Between his beneficial insects and his hummingbirds, he has not had to spray so far.

With Robert Hays’ high-yield blackberry trellising system, rows are 5 feet apart, and all canes are tied tightly to keep row middles open. All current season’s growth is tied to wires, no heading back. Barbed wire on trellises prevents tied canes sliding on wires during windy weather. (Photo credit: Robert Hays)
With Robert Hays’ high-yield blackberry trellising system, rows are 5 feet apart, and all canes are tied tightly to keep row middles open. All current season’s growth is tied to wires, no heading back. Barbed wire on trellises prevents tied canes sliding on wires during windy weather. (Photo credit: Robert Hays)

High-Density Trellis System
His high blackberry yields and unique trellis system also caught my attention. He plants his trailing blackberry plants 5 feet apart in-row, with rows planted on 5-foot centers, giving him 1,742 plants per acre — rather than traditional plantings with plants 4 feet apart in-row, rows on 10 foot centers, and 1,089 plants per acre. On his Arkansas-type erect blackberries, he plants 31/2 feet apart in-row.

On both types Robert nurtures every new plant that comes up from the crowns. He trains them in fan-shape up, over the top three-wire single-row trellis (two-wire trellis for his erect-type varieties), and back down on an approximate 45-degree angle. He ties each cane of his Triple Crown variety as it crosses the middle wire, then ties it to the bottom wire, letting each cane continue to lengthen, then zigzags it angling back up toward the top wire. As laterals form and lengthen, he also ties them to the nearest wire.

He does no summer or winter pruning. By maintaining all these extra lengths of fruit-bearing canes and laterals, his canes are loaded with berries. On the six acres and 7,800 plants, he and his pickers average 41/4 gallons of berries per plant. That’s more than 6,900 gallons of blackberries per acre, equivalent to more than 27,000 quarts per acre, or more than 54,000 pints per acre. His blackberries weigh about 5 1/2 pounds per gallon, so he gets well more than 35,000 pounds of berries per acre.

“He has the blackberryest-growing hill I have ever seen,” says his Extension agent, Stanley Wise.

Robert’s farms are in hilly country requiring terracing on the steeper hillsides in order to best work the land and prevent soil erosion.

Hays uses a mixture of 50% vinegar-water sprayed in-rows on young plantings for weed and grass control. The trellis has not been installed yet on young rows shown on left. Note drip irrigation on all rows. One field is bottom-land, all others are on terraced hillsides. (Photo credit: Robert Hays)
Hays uses a mixture of 50% vinegar-water sprayed in-rows on young plantings for weed and grass control. The trellis has not been installed yet on young rows shown on left. Note drip irrigation on all rows. One field is bottom-land, all others are on terraced hillsides. (Photo credit: Robert Hays)

Hays’ Production System
Robert is able to keep these narrowly spaced rows accessible by keeping all canes tightly tied on the wires, and even where canes cross each other between the wires. Nothing hangs out in the row middles, nor grows above the top wire in his production system (see photos). Such tightly tied canes keep these row middles — which are kept in grass frequently mowed with a narrow riding lawn mower — easily accessible to pickers. (Note: The horticultural hand tying tool — Max Tapener — makes tying canes and laterals to wires an easy job for me).

Robert’s production system is highly labor-intensive, but newer growers can obtain a lot of blackberries with a small planting. Increase the planting size as your market expands and as you are able to hire workers to assist in the summer-long months of cane and laterals tying, plus picking berries for several weeks, then pruning out of the second year fruiting canes. Robert removes these canes as soon as possible after harvest is completed. Then you have the reward of bigger harvests and the great joy of no more blackberry pruning.

To learn more about Robert Hays and his berry farms, check out his website at HaysBerryFarms.com. Robert loves to talk about his passion for growing blackberries, and I believe he would be an excellent speaker at regional and national berry growers conferences. He does berry growing consulting and seminars spanning a wide area.

Your blackberry customers are going to need bigger freezers for all of these berries.

Topics: , ,

Leave a Reply

Berries Stories

BerriesTop 10 Things Berry Growers Need To Do Before 2015
November 11, 2014
Preparation, management, and control can help you get your canes off to a great start in the next growing season. Read More
BerriesNew Berry Growers Are Innovative
November 11, 2014
In this electronic information age, these new, first-time berry growers are quick to locate berry growing information resources, including local and university Extension/research-developed production and marketing information for their area. Read More
BerriesOrganic Strawberry Research Gets $200,000 Boost From Walmart
November 7, 2014
Scientists from University of Florida and North Carolina A&T forge ahead with studies, seek more grower feedback. Read More
BerriesManage Black Root Rot Of Strawberry
October 30, 2014
Controls include preplant nematode analysis, three-to-five year crop rotations, and more. Read More
BerriesOnline Strawberry Monitoring System Set To Expand Services
October 8, 2014
After success in Florida, South Carolina growers will soon have access to unique crop protection invention. Read More
BerriesJudge Upholds Lawsuit Filed By California Strawberry Commission
October 7, 2014
Suit accuses University of California-Davis of scrapping research relationship. Read More
BerriesNourse Farms, Inc. 2015 Variety Showcase [Slideshow]
October 4, 2014
Nourse Farms, Inc. in South Deerfield, MA, offers the first primocane black raspberry, the first white strawberry offered in the U.S., a new day-neutral strawberry, and more. Read More

The Latest

BerriesSuspected Borer Could Be Big Bother To Florida Blueberr…
November 24, 2014
Producers warned to be on the lookout as scientists probe samples. Read More
BerriesPackaging Company’s Campaign To Benefit Future Organi…
November 19, 2014
Sambrailo Packaging of Watsonville, CA, has partnered with California Certified Organic Farmers and will donate a portion of the sales of clamshells made from plastic bottles. Read More
BerriesGeorgia Is The Top Blueberry State In The Nation
November 17, 2014
The Peach State experiences extreme growth in production of blueberries in the last 20 years. Read More
BerriesTop 10 Things Berry Growers Need To Do Before 2015
November 11, 2014
Preparation, management, and control can help you get your canes off to a great start in the next growing season. Read More
BerriesNew Berry Growers Are Innovative
November 11, 2014
In this electronic information age, these new, first-time berry growers are quick to locate berry growing information resources, including local and university Extension/research-developed production and marketing information for their area. Read More
BerriesOrganic Strawberry Research Gets $200,000 Boost From Wa…
November 7, 2014
Scientists from University of Florida and North Carolina A&T forge ahead with studies, seek more grower feedback. Read More
BerriesManage Black Root Rot Of Strawberry
October 30, 2014
Controls include preplant nematode analysis, three-to-five year crop rotations, and more. Read More
BerriesOnline Strawberry Monitoring System Set To Expand Servi…
October 8, 2014
After success in Florida, South Carolina growers will soon have access to unique crop protection invention. Read More
BerriesJudge Upholds Lawsuit Filed By California Strawberry Co…
October 7, 2014
Suit accuses University of California-Davis of scrapping research relationship. Read More
BerriesNourse Farms, Inc. 2015 Variety Showcase [Slideshow]
October 4, 2014
Nourse Farms, Inc. in South Deerfield, MA, offers the first primocane black raspberry, the first white strawberry offered in the U.S., a new day-neutral strawberry, and more. Read More
BerriesReal Estate Firm, Wish Farms Strike Large Land Deal
October 1, 2014
$13.8 million transaction includes more than 800 acres acquired from longtime Central Florida produce operation. Read More
BerriesPractice Persistence When Battling Botrytis In Blueberr…
September 30, 2014
Cognizance of resistance is key to managing formidable fungus. Read More
BerriesNew Fill-By-Weight Clamshell Filler For Blueberries
September 30, 2014
Lakewood Process Machinery's equipment offers a simplified user interface, minimized drop heights, a new dribble-gate system designed for an increased level of accuracy. Read More
BerriesDrought Could Impact Spring California Strawberry Crop
September 29, 2014
Ventura County expects reduction of acres planted as surface water availability takes a hit. Read More
BerriesFlorida Blueberry Growers Ready To Rise To The Occasion…
September 29, 2014
Florida Blueberry Growers Association president Dudley Calfee provides state of the industry insight. Read More
BerriesDon’t Let Your Guard Slip When Taking On Thrips
September 27, 2014
Tiny insect pests can present big problems for blueberry growers. Read More
BerriesIs The Diaprepes Root Weevil An Emerging Blueberry Pes…
September 26, 2014
Reports indicate longtime citrus nuisance might be tempted by the fruit of another. Read More
BerriesBeat Blueberry Gall Midge
September 25, 2014
Due diligence required in the identification, tracking, and control of this flying fiend. Read More