We have 11 acres about 1/3 of which is farmed. We grow vegetables in raised beds and strawberries in specialized planters. We also grow blackberries, blueberries, grapes, kiwis, apples, peaches, pears, apricots, cherries, raspberries, lingonberries, elderberries, goji berries, hops and gourds. We have a particular interest in maximizing our crop in the smallest footprint possible while increasing its nutritional value.
For three years we have successfully been growing vegetables in raised beds of cement blocks filled with a soilless mix of different materials after the method of Len Pense (see www.gardeningrevolution.com). The raised beds drain far better than the poor clay soil that we have and we can control the chemistry of the planting medium. We can also plant-out much earlier in the season and harvest much later than otherwise.
Project Description and Results
The goal of this project was to prove or disprove that goji berry (Lycium barbarum) bushes can be grown in central Missouri sustainably and with minimal effort. This region, with its loess covered clay soils, wide swings in seasonal temperatures and occasional droughts make Boone County remarkably similar to the Ningxia Province of northern China where the vast majority of the world’s goji berry plants grow. Today goji berry bushes are found naturalized in the Missouri wilds along railroad tracks where migrant Chinese workers dropped the dried berries they brought with them when they came to work on the railroads.
When we applied for this grant, I had a few years experience growing goji berry bushes in my garden. Lycium barbarum is very easy to germinate and will grow in a container as a houseplant. By the time I wrote the proposal for this grant, I already had 200 seedlings set out in one of my raised vegetable beds.
The first step in planting our 100-bush berry patch was to add amendments to the soil to help it drain better because goji berry bushes are intolerant of heavy wet soil. After tilling four 130 ft rows, we added and mixed in chopped leaves and cotton burr compost. We put down a weed barrier mat and cut holes five feet apart for the 100 plants. Before we placed the year-old seedlings in the holes we mixed 1/2 cup of Len Pense’s ‘Essential Elements’ into the soil. The Essential Elements is a proprietary formula composed of rock powders, mychorrizal fungi and alfalfa formulated by Len Pense of Strafford MO. We used cedar chips for mulch to keep the maintenance to a minimum. Lastly we installed Blue-X grows tubes around the seedlings. These were very effective in protecting against extreme sun, weather, wind, animals and insects as well as providing beneficial growth enhancing blue light. A drip line was set up for watering. In the second year we applied fertilizer and kept the patch mown.
We measured the height of each plant with a tape measure in October 2008 and again in 2009. The first year 34 plants showed moderate or less growth, 28 good growth of 12- 24″ and 23 showed exceptional growth of greater than 24″. Fifteen plants didn’t increase in height at all. At the end of the first year 44 of the 100 plants had died, mostly from frost heaving or root rot but a few from rodent damage. These were replaced.
The second year 18 plants were measured at a height of 13-24″ and 44 were taller than 25″, 5 of which reached the target height of 48″ or greater. It is at about 48″ that they branch and become vine-like similar to the tomato, a distant cousin.
The only disease that we identified which affected most of the plants was septaria leaf spot. In most cases the plants shed the affected leaves and eventually re-grew them. About 5 of the weaker plants probably succumbed to this disease.
The results are better than I expected. Three plants bloomed in their second year but didn’t produce fruit. We will continue to replace dead bushes with quality seedlings until we have a full complement of 100 plants.
I have been impressed with how well Lycium barbarum has grown on my farm with nothing but the grow tubes for growth aids. Despite the two wet summers we had and the amount of clay in the soil most of the plants did very well to remarkably well. Next year the largest plants will be staked and pruned and I anticipate getting the first berries next summer. Goji berry plants produce berries typically from July until frost. When the plants reach maturity at 4-5 years I hope to sell fresh goji berries at the Columbia Farmer’s Market.
I haven’t identified any disadvantages to doing a project like this except the amount of time it takes to write this report. The advantage on the other hand is that we have another established berry patch which will give us another source of income in a few years.
I do recommend goji berry farming to other Missouri farmers. The plants don’t take up too much space and require about the same amount of maintenance as blueberries or blackberries. Goji berries are extraordinarily nutritious and will be a very good addition to local farmers markets. Fresh goji berries can’t be found in U.S. markets yet so this is definitely a good niche market crop.
As a result of this project we have done the following outreach:
We have started a website and blog at: www.carolskitchengarden.com where we blog about daily life on the farm and discuss goji berry growing. The website hasn’t been updated in a while. I was interviewed by 89.5 KOPN radio and spoke to the audience of the Farm and Fiddle Show on Nov. 5, 2008. On Nov. 8, 2008, I gave a Powerpoint presentation at the 2008 Small Farm Conference, Farmer’s Forum to approximately 30 people. My Powerpoint slides have been included but may be viewed on the website as well.
Explanation of Budget Expenditures
Personnel services: I accurately estimated the time to prepare the soil, lay the weed mat, mulch and plant. What I didn’t anticipate was how much time was required to keep the weeds suppressed. I paid Thomas for the work he did and myself the rest of the personnel funds for some of the work I did.
I chose not to do a soil analysis at this time.
The cost of the Grow Tubes was $16.55 higher than expected because shipping had increased.
The cost of the Cotton Burr Compost was $30 less because I bought less than originally anticipated.
The Essential Elements Rock Powder was $59 less than anticipated because I needed only 1 bucket not 2.
I decided the start-up and maintenance fertilizers were not necessary and I replaced them with a liquid fertilizer for a difference of +$87
The cedar mulch cost $86 more than budgeted. This does not include gas which increased in price significantly in the spring of 2008.
The trickle irrigation supplies were on sale and cost $80 less than budgeted.
I did not budget for tomato stakes which are necessary to train the plants. They cost about $285 with shipping.