Monthly Archives: August 2013

Meet Richard Jackson.

100_0860 (1024x768)

Richard is doing something rather unique in his part of Amelia—he is growing blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. There are quite a few families growing small fruits and fruit trees in Central Virginia, but Richard is one of the few landowners who has delved into berry production as a farm enterprise.100_0862 (1024x768) (1024x768)

He brought his first plants to his property in 2012, and his experience since then has been positive. He harvested and sold berries this summer and is expecting more to ripen soon as the summer winds down. Richard hopes to add more plants in the upcoming season. His operation includes raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries.

100_0852 (1024x768)Thanks to careful planning and good foresight, Richard realized that if he grew varieties that matured at different times of the year, he would have a constant supply of berries either for sale or for potential use in products made on the property. For example, his Arapaho blackberries ripen in early summer, while his Triple Crown blackberries ripen in July or August. Berries can only last for a few days in a cooler before they spoil, and it is difficult to pick, store, and market large quantities of berries that are ready for sale all at once.

100_0851 (1024x768) (2)

Richard has faced his share of challenges during the establishment of his plants. Although moisture was not his biggest concern this year thanks to abundant rain, he set up a drip tape irrigation system in anticipation of dry summers in the future. Drip tape runs down the rows and contains openings that deposit water close to the ground near the root zones of the plants. This prevents fruit rot, which can spread and grow more easily under an overhead watering system, and the system reduces moisture losses from watering during hot weather. 100_0841 (1024x768)Like all growers, he continues to battle weeds and grasses that grow between the rows of berries. Any unwanted plants growing near the berries compete for valuable nutrients and water. Richard is working on fine-tuning his fertilizer regimen, but using soil tests has helped him eliminate guess-work and strategically choose which nutrients are needed and which are not. Using soil tests to inform fertilizer decisions prevents producers like Richard from over-applying costly nutrients.

100_0855 (1024x768)Richard mulches around his plants in order to suppress weeds and control moisture. He has found that pine fines work well around his blueberries. Mulches made from pine tend to be acidic, and blueberries need to grow in acidic soils with pH levels near 4.5-5.2 Richard has begun to use other materials around his blackberries and raspberries, which prefer soil pH levels near 5.8-6.5.

100_0856 (1024x768)

100_0846 (1024x768)If all goes well, Richard hopes to expand his operation and adopt management strategies that will encourage increased berry yields. He has plenty of chores to continue through the year, including the perpetual task of pruning canes and branches, but the effort he has put into getting his farm off the ground is paying off.  

100_0854 - Copy (1024x768)

Berry growers must control insects in order to maintain a marketable product, but they should take careful steps to avoid harming populations of beneficial insects and pollinators. For example, a grower should choose the right product for the target pest and use it in a time frame when beneficial insects are not active around the plants.

Additional Resources for Readers:

Small Fruit in the Home Garden

Answers to Common Blueberry Questions

Small Fruit Planting-Reasons for Planning Ahead


Meet the Alexanders.

100_0774 (1024x768)

They operate Avery’s Branch Farms, a dairy, pork, and poultry operation in Amelia County. The Alexanders started their farm business about six years ago and moved to their current location in 2009. They are primarily milk producers who interact with local consumers via a cow shareholding system, but they also raise poultry and pigs in order to offer chicken, turkey, pork, and eggs for sale. The family has made it their goal to feed their milking herd a pasture-based diet and to build healthy soil that can sustain pasture plants. Tim, his wife Joy, and their children run the operation together.

100_0775 (1024x768) 100_0747 (1024x768)

The Avery’s Branch milking herd is composed of about fifty head of Jerseys and crossbred animals. Why Jerseys? This breed does not produce the same volume of milk per day as the Holstein does, but Jersey milk tends to be high in butterfat and protein and is excellent for making cheese. Jersey cattle also perform well in the outdoor conditions on grazing operations and are widely used in many parts of the country. 100_0753 - Copy (1024x768)

The milking herd relies primarily on forages to meet their needs. The cows receive a small amount of grain to meet their remaining nutritional requirements because lactating animals naturally require a high-energy diet in order to produce milk.

Like any grazing operation, Avery’s Branch strives to manage their pastures in such a way that forage is available for the majority of the year. Any farmer who runs out of pasture by the winter or faces a slump during a hot summer must resort to feeding hay, which can become costly. To reduce the number of hay-feeding days per year on the farm, Tim utilizes a diverse mix of annual and perennial forages in his pasture. Some of his pasture consists of tall fescue and clover, both of which are cool-season grasses that thrive in fall and spring and can be “stockpiled,” or saved up in the fall for grazing during the winter. The clover also “fixes” nitrogen from the air and adds it back into the soil, making it available for plants to use.  Since cool-season grasses typically do not grow well during the hottest months, Tim plants warm-season annuals such as sudangrass, sorghum-sudangrass, and crabgrass, all of which thrive during the summer months when cool-season grasses have gone dormant. Keeping crabgrass as a desirable pasture plant may come as a surprise to people who despise seeing it in their lawns and gardens, but crabgrass is actually a higher-quality forage than many of its warm-season counterparts and contains about 15% crude protein and 60% total digestible energy when it is grown in fertile soil.  The Alexanders have also planted winter annuals like ryegrass and oats to help get through the coming months.

100_0804 - Copy (1024x768)

Weeds, weather, and soil factors all play a role in the quality of the forages that are available to the cows. This year, wet weather has allowed cool-season forages like tall fescue to keep on growing all summer long. Weeds are also a concern on the farm, as they are for all producers, but the Alexanders combat them by clipping them to weaken them and rotating animals between pastures. Pasture rotation reduces the stress on desirable plants and allows them to recover quickly and choke out undesirable plants.

100_0786 (1024x768)The Alexanders have continued to grow their farm to further meet the needs of their customers and shareholders. Their willingness to try new practices and evaluate their successes and failures objectively has allowed them to take their farming operation from an idea to a real-life success.   

100_0756 - Copy (1024x768)Additional Resources for Readers:

Warm-Season Annual Grass For Summer Forage

Forage Establishment: Getting Off to a Good Start

Information about Direct Marketing for Farm Products

Avery’s Branch Farms Website