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

One comment on “Berry Growers Sharing Great Ideas

Berries Stories
Growers boot up drone technology on the farm
Berries
March 3, 2017
Specialty Crops Primed for Precision Agriculture
Employing the latest horticultural technology tools could have substantial financial benefits for producers of hand-picked specialty crops, according to a new research paper. Read More
Berries
March 2, 2017
Pruning Pointers for Dormant Care of Berries
If you haven’t started pruning your berries, it’s time you do. Read More
Berries
February 26, 2017
Advantages to Growing Southern Highbush Blueberries
Growers in some regions where temperatures don’t get too low could consider the benefits of Southern highbush varieties. Read More
Berries
February 23, 2017
Primocane: A Major Innovation in Berry Production
I’ve witnessed the rise of primocane-fruiting blackberries, from first selections to integration in the market. Read More
2017 Florida Strawberry Picking Challenge winners
Berries
February 22, 2017
Florida Strawberry Picking Contest a Big Winner for Charity
Fourth-annual fundraising event brings in more than $100,000 to benefit children of local farmworkers. Read More
Registration area at the 2017 Florida Blueberry Growers Association Spring Meeting
Berries
February 17, 2017
Florida Blueberry Growers Counting on a Comeback
With last season's disaster in the rear view, all eyes are searching for bluer skies. Read More
Wish Farms mega strawberry donation
Berries
February 14, 2017
Wish Farms Shows Love With Super-Sized Strawberry Donation
More than 4,000 pounds of locally grown produce from Central Florida farming operation goes to help feed needy families in the Tampa area. Read More
Florida Beauty strawberries
Berries
February 10, 2017
New Florida Strawberry Shaping up to Be a Thing of Beauty
Unique variety, a collaboration between UF/IFAS and an Australian scientist, still in its early stages. Read More
raspberry closeup
Berries
February 6, 2017
Washington Berry Grower Accused Of Illegal Irrigation Appeals Fines
Gurjant “George” Sandhu says the fines were unjust, and the State Department of Ecology hadn’t provided adequate evidence. Read More
SWD On Raspberry
Berries
January 27, 2017
Spotted Wing Drosophila ‘Stars’ at National Berry Conference
Biocontrols, nutrition, and new varieties are also among the hot topics discussed at the annual berry meeting. Read More
Berries
January 4, 2017
Growers Say it’s the Best of Times or the Worst of Times for Berry Industry
Some say there’s an oversupply, some disagree, but despite challenges for the berry industry, most growers remain upbeat about the future. Read More
raspberry closeup
Berries
December 30, 2016
Berry Grower Hit with Fine for Water Use
Washington State Department of Ecology alleges grower supplied inaccurate water use figures, illegally irrigated two berry farms. Read More
A bunch of 'Sweet Sensation' strawberries lined up for photo purposes
Berries
December 20, 2016
Table Set for an Extra-Sweet Florida Strawberry Season
Conditions ideal for new, flavorful varieties. Marketing campaign aims to clue-in consumers. Read More
Vance Whitaker next to a bed of strawberries
Berries
December 15, 2016
Scientists: GMOs Not Part of Florida Strawberry Success
Misconceptions about what methods are used to breed new varieties spark need for public outreach. Read More
Action shot of an automated strawberry picker from Harvest CROO
Berries
December 13, 2016
Horsepower Mounting For Real-World Robotic Strawberry Harvesting
National Science Foundation awards grant for further development of potential industry game-changer. Read More
The Latest
Berries
March 26, 2017
Outsmarting SWD with Social Media
Entomologist in Kentucky uses social media for pest updates, trap catches. Read More
Berries
March 25, 2017
Florida Blueberry Crop Escapes Slap from…
Freeze protection tactics prove fruitful as local producers look to gain from Georgia’s loss. Read More
Berries
March 15, 2017
Arctic Blast Gives Southern Fruit Grower…
Peaches and berries in bloom most at risk from freezing temperatures. Read More
Berries
March 3, 2017
Specialty Crops Primed for Precision Agr…
Employing the latest horticultural technology tools could have substantial financial benefits for producers of hand-picked specialty crops, according to a new research paper. Read More
Berries
March 2, 2017
Pruning Pointers for Dormant Care of Ber…
If you haven’t started pruning your berries, it’s time you do. Read More
Berries
February 26, 2017
Advantages to Growing Southern Highbush …
Growers in some regions where temperatures don’t get too low could consider the benefits of Southern highbush varieties. Read More
Berries
February 23, 2017
Primocane: A Major Innovation in Berry P…
I’ve witnessed the rise of primocane-fruiting blackberries, from first selections to integration in the market. Read More
Berries
February 22, 2017
Florida Strawberry Picking Contest a Big…
Fourth-annual fundraising event brings in more than $100,000 to benefit children of local farmworkers. Read More
Berries
February 17, 2017
Florida Blueberry Growers Counting on a …
With last season's disaster in the rear view, all eyes are searching for bluer skies. Read More
Berries
February 14, 2017
Wish Farms Shows Love With Super-Sized S…
More than 4,000 pounds of locally grown produce from Central Florida farming operation goes to help feed needy families in the Tampa area. Read More
Berries
February 10, 2017
New Florida Strawberry Shaping up to Be …
Unique variety, a collaboration between UF/IFAS and an Australian scientist, still in its early stages. Read More
Berries
February 6, 2017
Washington Berry Grower Accused Of Illeg…
Gurjant “George” Sandhu says the fines were unjust, and the State Department of Ecology hadn’t provided adequate evidence. Read More
Berries
January 27, 2017
Spotted Wing Drosophila ‘Stars’ at Natio…
Biocontrols, nutrition, and new varieties are also among the hot topics discussed at the annual berry meeting. Read More
Berries
January 4, 2017
Growers Say it’s the Best of Times…
Some say there’s an oversupply, some disagree, but despite challenges for the berry industry, most growers remain upbeat about the future. Read More
Berries
December 30, 2016
Berry Grower Hit with Fine for Water Use
Washington State Department of Ecology alleges grower supplied inaccurate water use figures, illegally irrigated two berry farms. Read More
Berries
December 20, 2016
Table Set for an Extra-Sweet Florida Str…
Conditions ideal for new, flavorful varieties. Marketing campaign aims to clue-in consumers. Read More
Berries
December 15, 2016
Scientists: GMOs Not Part of Florida Str…
Misconceptions about what methods are used to breed new varieties spark need for public outreach. Read More
Berries
December 13, 2016
Horsepower Mounting For Real-World Robot…
National Science Foundation awards grant for further development of potential industry game-changer. Read More