Blueberry Field Renovation
We have been raising blueberries in southern Missouri since 1982 with good success, but have noticed a significant decline in plant vigor and productivity after a field reaches 20 to 25 years of age. The purpose of this project is to determine the best protocol to renovate a blueberry field by evaluating the efficacy of several cultural practices.
We will utilize our standard pre-planting field preparation protocol which includes: Cover cropping with Sorghum Sudan and Brassica, disking the field several times to incorporate cover crop and to expose soil to surface conditions, and planting on raised rows.
The practices we will be individually evaluating include:
- Incorporating ground up shiitake log compost at planting
- Incorporating spent coffee grounds at planting
- Addition of worms to planting hole
- Inoculation of blueberry planting hole with worm casting tea
We will plant 4 study blocks of plants within our large planting. Within each test block, we will use only one treatment to get a better understanding of the contribution of that specific cultural practice. For the balance of the 2016 planting, we will incorporate all of the practices mentioned so that we can evaluate the cumulative impact of the practices being considered.
To this point in this project, we have:
- Removed all of the old plant materials possible and the irrigation lines
- Planted, grew out and turned in 5 cover crops (one of which, brassica, was timed so that it was wetted by rain in a timely manner which should amplify its fumigative impact)
- Taken soil samples and located early samples for this field
- Ground up enough retired shiitake logs for the project (we are in the process of composting the ground shiitake logs at the time of this report)
- Evaluated the compost material as to its suitability for use as a blueberry soil amendment
- Considered various types of worms for use in this project
- Secured coffee grounds for the project
- Secured pine bark to be ground for the project
- Purchased a flail mower which was used in the chopping up of the last cover crop, making it more efficiently incorporated into the soil of the planting
- Determined the best variety of blueberry for this planting for the project and for its value to our farm, and secured those plants.
Left to do: We need to secure equipment to make our worm casting tea (55 gallon barrels, soapstones and appropriate tubing); remove irrigation header for the field under renovation for repositioning; turn the field over a last time; disking it so that the rows can be raised; throw up the rows ready for planting; order the selected worms for appropriate delivery time; pick up plants from grower in Michigan; haul in pine bark from the mill and chip it to the appropriate size; order irrigation line; reposition header at top of field and plant as per our SOP which includes a 4 to 6 inch layer of mulch. This summer, the field will be supported as appropriate for a new planting and then evaluation will be done at the end of the growing season as to general plant vigor, mortality rate, plant size and foliar analysis by treatment.
While the official completion date of this project is February of 2017, data collection will be continued through 2020 as the true impact of our practices require more than one year of plant growth for meaningful evaluation. We plan to be available to share this information with other growers as we continue the project on our own. In this same vein, many of the requested topics to be covered in this annual project report will be brief due to the length of time required to prepare for the actual data collection portion of this project, and that this component of the project has not yet begun.
At this point, we have been working on the means to our objective, with our cover cropping and preparation to be ready to plant. Speaking to our ultimate objective of being able to have an informed voice to help us and others in our region to actually renovate fields for replanting blueberries, we are still in the rather protracted, preparation phase to achieve that objective. Our progress is considerable as we relate the performance targets of this project, but by nature, the cover crops require time. We have been on schedule with the cover crops and our preparation with regard to the various soil amendments and are on track for planting this winter/spring. Unfortunately, the “a-ha” moment we hope to discover will come only after several years of blueberry plant growth.
So far new skillsets/knowledge that we have obtained supporting this project include the following:
- Better knowledge base for composting (via Dr. Hwei-Yiing Johnson’s compost seminar) Dr. Johnson is a Lincoln University State Extension Specialist.
- Better knowledge of vermiculture once again through Dr. Johnson’s compost seminar and through on-farm visits that she has made to our farm
- Better knowledge of natural fumigation utilizing brassica
- Compilation and study of soil tests for this field since 1996
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Again, our project has been primarily preparing soil for the planting which will be accomplished in early spring 2016.
Out initial outcome data will not be available until the end of the 2016 growing season.