Category Archives: Fruit

Meet Millfarm Christmas Trees and Berry Farm.

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Trees come naturally to Bill Apperson—he is, after all, a forester by trade. However, he readily asserts that Millfarm is a team effort, with his wife Mary serving as his integral other half. “I’m more the horticulturalist, she’s the salesperson,” he says, and when it comes to management, “We see almost everything alike.” Mary, in turn, jokes, “He’s the brains, and I’m the brawn.”

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For many years, their combined powers behind the scenes have enabled visitors to share in the Christmas tree farm’s high-quality offerings. Millfarm, located minutes from Williamsburg, is a gem for pick-your-own enthusiasts chasing after a fresh-air farm experience or seeking a place to build family holiday traditions. Visitors walk through the fields to choose their trees, and the Appersons cut them and bring them out for the ride home. In a typical year, the farm draws its largest crowds on the first two weekends after Thanksgiving, as many customers want their trees in place in time for the Grand Illumination in nearby Colonial Williamsburg.

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What sets the Appersons apart from many tree farms is their tree-tagging policy—or, more precisely, the locally-cherished tree-tagging tradition they have cultivated. Any time after Halloween, customers are welcome to visit the farm, choose a tree, and reserve it with a tag of their choosing. Over time, this practice has evolved into a full-blown annual ritual for many families who come early in the season to claim a tree and mark it with special materials from home. “We have some uniquely decorated trees in our fields,” Mary laughs. Some trees are reserved simply with tags, ribbons, strings, or even socks, while others hold more elaborate trappings like tinsel, glass ornaments, hand-written signs, and even police caution tape. Some families visit their chosen trees multiple times throughout the holiday season, and Mary counted two dozen photographers at the farm on one recent weekend. “Families come out here to get their pictures taken with their trees,” she says.

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Above: Families reserve the trees of their choosing with a variety of signs, decorations, and ornaments.

The Christmas tree farm, one of few in Southeastern Virginia, has offerings ranging from traditional White Pines, Cedars, and Norway Spruce to the unique Canaan fir, Blue Ice Cypress, and Carolina Sapphire. Cypress trees are also farm staples. “The Leyland Cypress is the most popular because it doesn’t shed. It’s a very clean tree,” Mary notes. Trees are priced by the foot. “We round it off,” Bill says. “One of our keys is affordability. We are building for repeat customers.”

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Mary Apperson

Using extra greenery, the family offers wreaths to their customers both at the farm and at a nearby market. “We use trees that won’t make a Christmas tree,” Mary says. Years ago, to enhance their wreaths, Bill and Mary began growing a deciduous holly called “Winterberry,” prized for its bright red fruit. “It’s very popular for winter decorating,” Mary says. After seeing how in-demand the branches were at markets in the region around the holidays, Bill established some larger Winterberry plantings. “I realized there was a really good market for them,” he says. Now, his family sells branches loaded with bright red berries at the Williamsburg market along with the farm’s greenery and wreaths.

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The farm grows Winterberry for wreathmaking and for the local market.

As for chores, there is plenty to keep the Appersons busy year-round. After Christmas, they plant nearly three thousand new trees next to the old cut stumps. “Of course, keeping grass cut is a ten-month-of-the-year job,” Mary says. There is also the matter of pests of both the spineless and the hooved variety. Evergreens on Millfarm and just about everywhere else can be afflicted with insects like bagworms, scale, and aphids. Bill and Mary have adopted organic pest management strategies to deal with these problems as the need arises. The deer, on the other hand, pose a far more visible threat. They rub bark from trunks, break branches, and browse on trees, leaving a wake of irreparable damage. This year’s deer problems were particularly painful. “We’ll lose a whole field of firs to the deer,” Mary says.

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She believes that loss of wildlife habitat due suburban growth could be creating some of the extra deer pressure. While there are many farms in the area surrounding Williamsburg, its suburbs remain attractive for future growth and development. While this development can certainly bring new challenges to farmers in its wake, Kate Robbins, who manages Agriculture and Natural Resources programming for the James City County Extension office, sees the growth as an opportunity for novel forms of agriculture to thrive. “James City County is, for sure, a borderline county where urban sprawl is outgrowing the agriculture. However, we are seeing a burst in small farms start-ups—those less than five acres. We have an excellent Farmer’s Market in Williamsburg, and James City County is working hard to offer help and incentives to the small farmer,” she says.

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Kate Robbins (center) visits with Bill and Mary at the farm. She brings Extension services and support to growers in James City County.

In the meantime, Kate visits with the Appersons and other existing farmers to offer her knowledge and support. “As the Virginia Cooperative Extension Agricultural and Natural Resources representative for James City County, my role is to be a local resource to the producers, providing fact-based information to help improve productivity while protecting the environment,” she says. “I might advise the producer or farmer about which variety of crop grows best in the county or offer training in the safe application of pesticides or educate on the benefits of crop rotation,” she says. Through her outreach, she helps growers including Bill and Mary when pest and disease cases require input from university specialists. “A producer’s crop may show evidence of disease, so I can help get samples to Virginia Tech to hopefully diagnose the problem and get the crop back up to full, healthy production,” she says.

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Through her visits with the Appersons, Kate has come to believe that their combination of experience, longevity, and commitment to sound environmental practices has enabled them to build long-term success. “The Appersons are excellent environmental stewards, staying abreast of best safety practices regarding fertilization, pesticides, soils and water,” she says. “They understand what will work with and compliment the native soils, and they have a clear understanding of the native environment. Additionally, they are educators—they practice what they preach, and their superior products clearly drive the point home,” she notes.

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Bill Apperson shows off a tillage raddish from the family’s garden. He grows them as a fall cover crop to improve the soil.

Bill himself is no stranger to collaborating with Extension and other agricultural agencies. He spent his career in the Virginia Department of Forestry, and even in retirement, he works with their staff to conduct special research projects. He also credits his career as a forester with kickstarting the Christmas tree endeavor over forty years ago. “People were asking how to grow Christmas trees and nobody knew, so I grew a few rows to try it,” he says. He was tasked with performing trials on behalf of the Department of Forestry to see if certain Christmas trees could, in fact, be grown successfully in Southeastern Virginia’s soils and climate. He says of his trial trees, “People wanted to buy them, which took me by surprise.” He later developed his own tree business and continued his forestry work, leading him to network with researchers and university faculty along the way. He built relationships with Extension specialists, including Allen Straw, small fruit and specialty crops expert, and credits them for providing crucial technical support for the farm’s crops.

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When Bill and Mary are not busy planting, shaping Christmas trees, controlling grass, or helping customers, they are hard at work on the small fruit side of their business. The farm property once housed an orchard, and after Bill grew trees for a number of years, he chose to put some of the land back into fruit production, albeit in the form of blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. “We decided to diversify a bit—it seemed like the way to go,” he says.

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Above: The farm’s blueberries and blackberries prepare for the winter ahead.

He grows several varieties of strawberries on black plastic and is currently experimenting with some day-neutral varieties that can blossom continuously throughout the growing season. Around April, the strawberries begin to require intensive attention, including irrigation, weed control, disease checks, and protection from freezing temperatures. Bill and Mary’s son, William, and their daughter-in-law, Cherie, help them run the farm. During strawberry planting season, William and Cherie’s children Lottie and Will help their parents and grandparents operate the farm’s waterwheel planter.

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Bill and Mary grow you-pick strawberries at Millfarm.

The farm is also home to several acres of blackberries and blueberries. Fruit harvest is mostly a pick-your-own affair, but the family takes a portion of the fruit crop to the market, where local berries are wildly popular. To adapt to local conditions, Bill grows southern highbush and rabbiteye varieties for his blueberry plantings, and he has a mixed selection of thorned and thornless blackberry varieties. Next year, he hopes to have raspberries growing under his high tunnel, and he has about an acre of asparagus that he and Mary hope to sell at the market next year along with their other offerings.

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One subtle benefit that pick-your-own operations afford to visitors is exposure to farm life. Bill says that kids who have never been to a farm often become wide-eyed with disbelief when they are invited to freely run and play in the open spaces on Millfarm. Many visit for berries in the summer. “I tell them, ‘Eat anything you want.’ They come out of the fields with juice running down their faces,” Bill says. Mary says that the farm enables her to show children firsthand how farm products are made. “They think that trees come from Lowe’s,” she says. She has hosted several school groups at the farm to date, and she has numerous opportunities to informally interact with her individual customers during their treks around the farm. “That’s the great part about you-pick—you get to educate,” she says.

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Bill and Mary have decades of experience on their side, and Bill has made effective use of his background as a tree expert to guide his decisions. “I try to start off with the right soil. If you can match the right tree to the right soil, you’re a genius,” he jokes. “Modern agriculture is all science with a little luck,” he says.

He and Mary focus on the areas where they can exert the greatest influence over their own success and the satisfaction of their customers. “We pride ourselves on three things—quality product, good service, and it’s got to be affordable,” Bill says. With those kinds of values at its core, Millfarm keeps its visitors returning year after year. After all, for many, the tree-buying experience at Millfarm is not just a shopping experience—it is a family tradition.

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Additional Resource for Readers:

Millfarm Christmas Trees and Berry Farm

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: 2015 Virginia Grown Christmas Tree Guide

Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association

An Introduction to Growing Christmas Trees in Virginia

Species for Christmas Tree Planting in Virginia

Virginia Department of Forestry


Meet Glascock Orchard.

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Anyone who asks Berryman Glascock how he got his start in the fruit tree business is bound to appreciate his longstanding dedication to the art. “I was born in a peach orchard, basically,” he says. Peaches have been grown in the area for a number of years, even going back as far as World War II when Glascock Brothers managed the orchard adjoining Berryman’s operation.

Though Berryman himself got an early start learning the industry, he was not always certain that it would be his career path. “I was eighteen when I left home, and I swore I’d never go into the peach business,” he says. About seven years later he returned to the farm and within the past four years has gone back into the business of raising fruit trees.

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Glascock Orchard sells most of the peach crop wholesale to produce stands. Berryman is also expecting to sell some apples and pears in the next year or two, although he admits that part of the draw of growing those additional fruits is his young grandson’s interest in them.

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Most of the work at the orchard is concentrated into several very busy months. “It’s a January through June operation,” Berryman says. He cites freezing weather in February and March as the most challenging part of managing the trees. “That’s the worst part of the whole deal—watching them all night,” he says. Some years are more worrisome than others, and Berryman is at the mercy of the weather every spring. This year, his trees were still at the bud stage around Easter when they took a hit during a cold snap.

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Berryman starts pruning in the first week or two of January, and in March he initiates his fertilizer program and his spray schedule to stave off diseases and pests like destructive peach tree borers. He also thins the fruit early in the season in hopes of reaching a target yield from each tree. If frost becomes a danger, he uses overhead irrigation as a protective measure.

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Weed control is another matter which requires constant attention. Overgrown grasses and plants surrounding the trees compete for water and nutrients and can make chores cumbersome. Berryman maintains a weekly regimen of weed control, disease management, and pest monitoring up until harvest time in June through July. Afterwards, he and his workers catch a breather. “Once the peaches are gone, we don’t do anything until January,” he says.

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Berryman may have a short break after the harvest season, but when he is not pruning or picking he is likely to be spotted taking advantages of educational opportunities. In fact, because of his interest in learning more about his craft, he has engaged with Virginia Cooperative Extension agents to host two fruit production workshops right at his orchard this year.

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Prior to 2013, few orchard workshops were held in the counties of Southside Virginia for growers like Berryman. Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension agents Katy Overby in Prince Edward County, Haley Norton in Nottoway County, and Lindy Tucker in Lunenburg County were inspired by client requests to develop a regional fruit tree conference for commercial growers—the first of its kind in many years—in December of 2013. Berryman was one of several dozen producers who attended, and it quickly became obvious that participating growers wanted more learning opportunities. In the following months, many homeowners also sought information about fruit tree care and management. “Probably forty or fifty percent of questions from homeowners are about fruit trees, so that was definitely a need. Ever since we started fruit trees, people want more,” says agent Katy Overby of her Extension work in Prince Edward County.

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Spurred by more interest from growers and particularly from homeowners and beginners seeking information, agents in the region held another fruit tree workshop in February of 2015, this time focusing on basic fruit production principles. Berryman graciously offered up his orchard for an on-farm pruning demonstration for the class of thirty. Participants discussed everything from diseases, integrated pest management, and pruning to tree selection and planting. Nelson County agent Michael Lachance walked the crowd through the orchard with Berryman, discussing tree troubleshooting and showing the audience how to make pruning cuts and properly shape trees.

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Nelson County Extension agent Michael Lachance teaches pruning cuts at the June 2015 summer orchard workshop.

This second winter workshop of 2015 begat yet another class several months later at Berryman Glascock’s orchard. This time, the agents chose to focus on summer pruning. “No one I know in this area has done summer pruning—we saw a need there,” says Nottoway agent Haley Norton. “We needed education on summer pruning cuts to increase yield and productivity.” Once again, Nelson agent Michael Lachance joined the group of fifteen homeowners and fruit producers on June 15th at Glascock Orchard to demonstrate pruning cuts out in the field.

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Prince Edward Extension agent Katy Overby and Berryman Glascock demonstrate summer pruning cuts during an orchard workshop.

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While commercial operations like Glascock Orchard are relatively few in number in Southside Virginia, interest in small-scale production continues to increase. “I do feel like on the homeowner side, with the movement towards growing your own food, we are going to see more people who want to grow small orchards. People are going to become educated one way or another. That education needs to come from Extension,” notes Haley Norton. She and several other agents plan to offer more tree fruit classes in the future and expand programming into the increasingly popular arena of small fruit production.

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Nottoway County Extension agent Haley Norton (top) and Charlotte County agent Bob Jones (above) discuss tree care with orchard workshop attendees.

What does all this mean for Berryman? Local Extension agents, commercial growers, and beginners alike may very well be back at his orchard soon for yet another afternoon of hands-on learning, should the need arise, and it appears that Berryman and his fellow commercial growers will have more opportunities to attend educational Extension conferences held in future years. Meanwhile, Berryman plans to continue doing what he does best—growing fruit, trying new things, learning as much as he can, and offering up peaches that nobody in their right mind could turn down.

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Additional Resources for Readers:

Virginia Cooperative Extension Tree Fruit Page

The Virginia Fruit Page

Virginia Tech Tree Fruit Extension and Outreach Facebook Page




Meet Swift Creek Berry Farm.

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Although the business has grown and changed quite a bit in the last thirty years, it has roots tracing back to the late 1800s when Joseph Tiberus Goode bought land in a part of Chesterfield County known as Moseley and raised sheep, tobacco, and vegetables for the Richmond market. Today, Clyde and Kathryn Goode alongside sons David and Jonathan and daughter Kimberly carry on what Joseph started at the Moseley farm, albeit with a bit of a twist. There is no longer a mule-drawn cart and travel to Richmond involved, and instead, visitors come to the u-pick operation to harvest their own berries and introduce their children to the fun tradition.

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Back when Joseph Goode passed away, the land was unfarmed until Clyde and Kathryn began growing a large garden on their property and then dove into the world of blueberry production in the 1980s. Virginia Cooperative Extension played a role in the transformation, as now-retired Extension agent Michael Henry assisted the family with the transition to the new crop. As time went on, the blueberry acreage increased. The family transitioned to Rabbiteye varieties after seeing that they offered better performance than the Northern Highbush varieties in the farm’s location.

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IMG_1950 (1024x683)The farm has added several greenhouses in the past two decades in order to offer high-quality spring and fall plants and vegetables to customers, and David even has his own business, Piedmont Hops, growing on part of the property. The Goode family understands that diversification of products and income is the key to success for a direct-market operation like Swift Creek Berry Farm, enabling customer engagement outside of the summer blueberry season.

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Water is delivered to the plants via a drip irrigation system.

Visitors look forward to returning to the farm each year when berries start ripening in late June. What they may not see is the incredible amount of work required to maintain the plants. Back in the eighties, the Goode children were enlisted to help plant, prune, harvest, and maintain the plants, and the work has never really stopped. Blueberries must be pruned annually to stimulate the growth of fruiting canes, prevent overgrowth, and remove any disease. For several thousand plants, this is a monumental task that requires hours of hand labor. Since rain is never a guarantee in central Virginia, the farm uses a drip irrigation system, which must also be maintained and monitored. During the summer months, cleanup and weed control is a high priority to ensure that customers can walk comfortably between the long rows of plants. The Goode family opts to control weeds using mowing, hoeing, hand removal, and weedeaters. They also strive to protect the natural resources around them by utilizing “BMPs,” or Best Management Practices, to maintain their crop and forest land.

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IMG_1899 (1024x683)In a growing county like Chesterfield, direct-market operations like Swift Creek Berry Farm and Greenhouse offer a rare and valuable opportunity for people to engage with producers, support local businesses, and get a taste of farm life. Many adults fondly recall childhood memories of berry picking and are eager to introduce their children to the experience, and customers who bring home whole buckets of berries at a time to bake a pie or cobbler find a great deal of satisfaction in the endeavor. The blueberry season may be fleeting and the year-round work behind the scenes may be taxing, but the Goode family provides an experience to the community that simply cannot be found at the grocery store.

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Additional Resources for Readers:

Swift Creek Berry Farm and Greenhouse website

Swift Creek Berry Farm and Greenhouse Facebook page

Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication: Specialty Crop Profile-Blueberries

Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication: Small Fruit in the Home Garden

Virginia Grown producer directory

Meet Richard Jackson.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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