Farewell to a crappy strawberry season, greetings to a bumper blueberry crop. Despite the frost damaging the blossoms on the blueberry plants and a growing problem with a disease called mummy berry, we still managed to have the best season yet with the blueberries. This is due in large part that our bushes are getting older and larger, and also that we have learned how to be better growers. The crew has been keeping really long hours trying to keep up with the harvest, and have been working until 7-7:30 at night trying to keep up with the picking. This makes for a pretty long day for the troops when your day starts in the field at 7 in the morning. Plus this wickedly hot weather takes the starch out of the toughest of men. We have been getting some respite from the drought this week with the arrival of 1.5″ of rain and we thankfully have been by passed by all the microbursts, gullywashersand tornados that have become somewhat an accepted fact of summer life, an unpleasant little sidebar to our changing climate. Along with changing weather patterns my farming friends and I also notice the arrival of seasonal diseases and insect pests brought up on southerly air flows starts much earlier in the season. This translates into extra time devoted to spraying to protect your crops, whether you are an organic or conventional grower, and that contributes to extra costs. I already got caught napping and lost a planting of cucumbers, and the melons arent too happy either. But we have been vigilant with the potatoes and tomatoes and the return last seasons dreaded late blight is in our future as it has been reported in Hadley,Mass two weeks ago.
An article in our local paper talked about a gardener in Vermont who was caught and fined $1500 for shooting birds in his strawberry patch by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. They were Cedar Waxwings and are protected under legislation as migratory birds. It does bring up the point that the interface between wildlife and agriculture is a conflicting one. Our university extension personnel tell us that verterbrate pests are emerging as the #1 problem and pest in New England row crop agriculture. We have found this to be true here on our farm. Where an occasional raccoon in the corn or woodchuck in the broccoli were of concern 30 years ago,we find we are defending our crops against an expanding deer population, and literally hordes of Redwing blackbirds in corn and Cedar Waxwings in our berries. A flock of wild turkeys can raise havoc in the blueberries. For deer we can spray ammonium salts or rotten egg extracts to deter them or erect electric fences to keep them out. For birds we have used (along with shotguns) balloons and propane cannons. It is an increasing annual expense to our production and it is having a huge impact on altering how we do and will do things in the future. We have netted part of our strawberry crop this year,and it worked well in exlcuding birds, but it is tremendously expensive to purchase and would take a huge amount of money and time to cover our 6-7 acres of strawberries. That cost has to be reflected in the cost to the consumer, so we are trying to figure out whether we can continue PYO strawberries. I guess we will just have to charge for it and let the market determine whether or not we should continue.