Sunday, May 15, 2011

Blessed producers

We produced a couple of hundred gallons of berries in 2010. We had so many we donated over 20 gallons to our church. We learned how to propagate our own plants, and bought plastic mulch and the implement to lay it. Over the winter, we amassed over 1000 plants through purchases from nurseries, and propagation of our own plants.

As soon as the weather clears, and the soil dries enough, we will begin breaking the ground, amending the soil, and building the new raised bed mulch covered rows for the new plants to populate.
It is our plan to build and operate a commercial farming operation that primarily grows blueberries for sale to the public. We also plan to grow other items for sale on a ‘you pick’, ‘or pick-to-order’ basis. We want to produce organic or chemical free produce for sale to the public.

Monday, May 9, 2011


The South experienced one of the worst droughts that we have ever seen this past summer.  Thankfully, we had experienced a lot of rain in 2010 during the growing season. Nearing the end of the producing cycle the drought became very hard on the plants.

There were terrible grass fires all up and down the highway we live on last year due to the drought.  There was a man traveling down the road with two flat tires on his trailer sparking fires as he drove down the road. We lost more than half of our plants and a lot of the irrigation tubing.  Since we had to replant and start over my husband investigated better planting methods. That is one of the reasons we decided to plant on hills using the Compact Mulch Layer implement. It will hold the water and reduce the weeds.
Thankfully, the drought is over May 2011, as the water is now at 47.7 cresting at more than 10 feet over flood stage for the Mississippi River in Memphis, TN.


The amount and type of fertilizer for use on blueberries depends on your soil type (is it clay like ours), whether have you added a lot of peat or sand, age, and size.  You will want to see how the plants are maturing, what has been their yield and look at the color of the leaves.  The ph level will affect all of the nutrients that the plant is getting. You may need to test your soil to see how much iron the plants can get according to the ph level.  Iron deficiency is found when soil pH rises above 5.3 to 5.5.
According to the Agriculture Exchange office, blueberry plants do not respond well to nitrate forms of nitrogen.  They also do not respond to high levels of nitrogen.  Therefore, several modest applications of the ammonium form of nitrogen are recommended.   If the soil pH is trending toward higher than desired levels, ammonium sulfate should be considered as the nitrogen source as it will reduce soil pH as well as supply nitrogen.
Truthfully, we have basically been very organic and used hardly any fertilizers. Blueberry plants do very well in our area as we get lots of sunlight and plenty of rain in the spring.  We have a lot of clover growing between the rows, which draws the bees to the plants and enriches the soil.  They must be very hardy plants as we have done well up until this past year.


The first few years we rarely did any pruning as we were busy planting more plants and they just needed to grow. But as the plants age they need cutting back so that they are not out in the rows too much and can get damaged mowing.
According to the Agriculture Exchange office, with Rabbiteye variety you should prune more vigorously  beginning at about the 6th year, remove between 10 and 15 percent of the canes each year (generally 1 to 2 canes) by cutting the oldest canes off about 2 inches aboveground. 
We now prune every year to clean up the rows and keep down disease. We also use the cuttings to cultivate our own new plants. We are just now getting good at this process. Thanks to Kelly we tried dipping it into a hormone that encourages root growth. This was very successful.
It is best to cut late fall or early spring from the new growth before the buds break. You will want a pencil thick cutting about 4-8 inches long. We found using a commercial hormone more successful than just dipping into water and putting it into a pot of peat.


Irrigation is extremely important in this area of the south as we get feast or famine with rain. This variety of blueberries does not require as much water but they do better with water during the ripening stage. According to the Agriculture Exchange office, first year plants need ½ gal of water per day during the growing season. It is recommended having 1 gallon of water for second year plants.
They state that watering once or twice a week and providing a substantial amount of water is better than applying small amounts of water on a daily basis.  Water is especially important during fruit ripening. 
Our new Compact Mulch Layer will lay the tubing as it covers the hill with a mulch fabric making it easier to keep the plants healthy. We expect to have fewer issues this year as we are now putting the blueberries on hills covered with this fabric. We will need less water as there will be no weeds competing for the water and robbing the plants of nutrients.
Several factors go into the amount of water needed. Age along with the amount of rainfall and the heat that we are experiencing are some of the factors.  We tried many different types of mulch to hold the water content in the soil. We did not like the shredded paper for mulch but did find that pine needles and pine bark was very successful.

Friday, May 6, 2011


My husband Clayton bought an auger to make the holes as we have very hard clay soil. This speed up the process and made the ground loser for the roots of the new plants. For a video on planting see
We added peat moss to the soil to help the acidity levels. The blueberry bush will not survive in PH levels higher than Ph 5.5 –these plants do best in a ph of 4.0 – 5.0. You can get a soil test kit from the local Agricultural Exchange office and the test is generally very inexpensive. This is extremely important for blueberries. They recommend waiting a year to plant as you need to get your ground ready. Of course, we were too excited to do that in the beginning but we now understand how important that preparation time is for the final results.
We planted our bushes about six feet apart with rows ten feet wide for mowing. You want to make sure you space them adequately as they will grow very wide and tall some up to ten feet tall if not pruned.  If you purchase bare root stock, you will want to soak them in water before planting to hydrate the roots. We found this year that potting them and keeping them water to grow a little more before planting has been most beneficial.
We now have a new implement that will mound the dirt and lay out a layer of mulch fabric along with the irrigation tubing, as it knocks the hill level. The last step in this process is for the blades to turn earth back onto of the mulch to hold down the fabric. Wow what a time saver! The person that designed this was a genius! Check out the video!


In 1993, we bought 15 acres in Fayette County as we were planning to build a country home. We soon figured out that my husband was a farmer in a former life.  He bought an old Ford tractor and started farming the land in the first month. This was a perfect opportunity to show the children how to work the land as we have always lived in a subdivision. We have always had a small garden and this did not satisfy his hunger for working outdoors. Our son Kelly came to life on the farm also. He loved plowing the fields and doing anything with his dad outside.

We built our country home in 1997 and moved to the country to start this life as farmers. In the beginning, we were planting several acres of corn and purple hull peas.  I say we but it was truly my husband, Clayton, with very little help from anyone else. Clayton took a lot of the corn and peas to the Scott Street Farmers Market to sell. He really loved networking with farmers and buying from them. This was such a break from the everyday wear and tear on the body at work. Clayton worked at FedEx for many years as a mechanic in the GSE department. Working outside can bring you closer to the Lord and give you such a renewal of life. This is especially true for us. We feel that we are truly blessed to have this time together working on the farm.

We decided in 2000 we would become blueberry farmers. Clayton researched and learned all he could about growing blueberries. Sounded like the perfect no fail product to go with on the over farmed poor ground that we have. Thankfully, he was very wise and the Lord led us to a wonderful new life. We soon bought 1500 two year old plants of five different varieties: Brightwell, Premiere, Legacy, Climax, and Tifblue which are all Rabbiteye blueberries.  Rabbiteye blueberries are suited for the southern Tennessee area as they are drought tolerant. It is very important to have several varieties as they need to cross pollinate to produce the best fruit.

We traveled across Mississippi to Waynesboro (a town I lived in as a ten year old). What a fun day that was and very educational. We learned a lot from Don Williams, who sold plants on the side from his farming.  We spent several hours talking to him as we loaded the plants and that was a great start on our education.