Hearthstone Berry Farm is 50 acres in northern Ashland County, Ohio. Twenty-eight acres is leased for agronomic crop production and 6 acres is developed into a pick your own berry farm and farm market. In operation since 2008, we primarily grow niche crops such as black currants, elderberries and Asian pears. We have educational outreach opportunities each year with a regular open house as well as pruning classes and blacksmith demonstrations. One-on-one instruction is also given to anyone that has an interest in the crops we grow. We operate the berry business with integrated pest management ideals and work to reduce both pesticide and fertilizer inputs through sustainable management practices. This is a part-time business with plans to increase the scope of the outreach when we, the owners, retire.
Figs (Ficus carica) are a subtropical shrub grown by gardeners in many parts of the country. Figs fruit on the current year’s wood of a mature shrub with some fruit produced on two-year-old wood. Yearly dieback of growth will significantly delay or even eliminate the crop. Home production of figs outside of their temperate zone involves cultivar selection, placement in an appropriate microclimate and/or winter insulation. Commercial production requires reliable and affordable methods of providing the same protection.
Some operations have begun to grow figs in high tunnels to produce a niche crop for their market. Production of figs with winter protection needs to be quantified for return on investment under various overwintering conditions. A comparison of methods with a control group will be needed. Figs will be grown in high tunnels, under low tunnels and with no protection. Four varieties of hardy figs will be used. The crop will be irrigated. Data collected will include: harvest dates and quantities; annual growth (caliper and length); insect and disease problems; and, sales. Successful establishment of a fig planting for research could lead to new information regarding fig production such as pruning and pest problems in this region.
- Establish a trial planting of figs using three types of overwintering methods: high tunnels, low tunnels, no protection (control).
- Trial four hardy fig varieties.
- Make a comparison with existing fig planting in USDA Zone 6.
- Quantify the shrub’s annual growth and harvest for each method.
- Make seasonal observations to look for growth characteristics or problems that may be unique to high-tunnel production in Ohio.
- Prepare sample budgets for each production method.
- Provide outreach and education to other growers in the region.
- Extension Programs
- Trade Association Meetings
- On-Farm Field days
- Curriculum for programs
“Hardy” figs can be grown to some extent, with protection, in northern Ohio. Figs will be grown in a farm setting under three conditions: normal field planting with deep mulch, low tunnel protection with deep mulch over winter and high tunnel protection over winter. Four hardy figs will be grown in these experimental blocks to see if they are hardy enough to grow as a niche crop in our area.
Figs were planted on 6′ centers with 10′ between rows. The field and high tunnel planting were mulched 18″ deep for some protection with low tunnels providing the additional experimental condition. The high tunnel being used is 12′ at its peak. Local growers that have tried figs found that a typical 8′ hoop house will not fit a full grown fruiting fig. The 12′ house will provide the additional height but it will also change the temperature dynamic from the 8′ houses.
Figs fruit early on overwintered wood and late on new wood. If figs overwinter in the field they will only produce a late crop which will not entirely mature prior to frost. If figs overwinter more successfully in low tunnels they may start, and fruit earlier with a potentially larger harvestable crop. If figs overwinter in the high tunnel they may produce an early crop from any overwintering wood, and start earlier, fruit earlier and be able to mature more of the fruit in the protection of the high tunnel.
Expenses and any harvest will be tracked to see if this is a practical niche crop for production in unheated structures in northern Ohio.
First practical data will be collected in 2019. Some of the test plants may need to be replanted.
Educational & Outreach Activities
There were not formal educational outreach the first year. Plants were only installed that season. The first practical data will be collected in 2019.
Initial year, 2018
Plants were ordered after receipt of the grant and received in May and June. Smaller plants needed more time in pots before planting. Therefore, several different sizes of plants were installed over the season making comparisons difficult. Ideally and going forward, the figs should be propagated the year prior to the study/installation year and installed uniformly in late spring of the initial study year. We held back several plants in containers as propagation stock for year two replacements.
As figs are a new crop to our area, we were wondering if they would be attractive to native vertebrates. Deer did not touch the plants in 2018, but rabbits moved into the high tunnel and girdled may plants. Figs resprout from low in the crown, so this damage is not fatal to the plant but would inhibit earlier fruiting in subsequent years. We will have to add rabbit control to the 2019 fall preparations.
Farm operation was impacted more significantly than anticipated from unanticipated labor problems and high tunnel maintenance. Those needs pulled owners away from other farm operations.
The high tunnel was constructed with additional bracing and anchors, but mid and late winter storms with winds officially clocked at 67 mph (local roofers claim they hit 70 mph) tore off the SE endwall of the high tunnel–several local residences also lost roofs and there were significant numbers of downed trees. I don’t know if I could have anticipated that degree of weather, but this grant could have never funded a more hardened structure.
Year 2, 2019
None of the treatment blocks have begin to sprout as of late April 2019, which is normal for overwintering figs. However, though the high tunnel figs should have had higher winter soil temperatures (which is indicated by the prolonged turf and weed growth in fall as well as the early greening of same in spring) they are sprouting no earlier than the control of low tunnel blocks.
I do plan on asking for an extension of the grant to continue fostering the plants. Woody plant material will return better experimental data in subsequent years. And, we are fully committed to this project so subsequent expenses will be budgeted by the farm. The field days will depend upon any extensions.
Projects with woody plant material take an initial year to establish the plant material. Much of the data would be expected in year 2 and with extensions years 3 and 4 of a study.