It is the new year already! We are enjoying the winter with the slower pace. Today we attended an all day meeting educating us about all the plant production product label updates. The speakers share about research trials that have been done that show what products work best for weeds, disease, etc for the crops grown in the Willamette Valley. We also learned about updates from the Oregon Department of Agriculture about what is coming down the line in the legislature and other government regulations about rules that will affect farmers. Sometimes it gets pretty overwhelming all the regulations that farmers have to comply with. I wish farmers and neighbors, and community in general could just work things out between themselves instead of having to have all these rules that come with so much paperwork. I know I am just dreaming though because this is not a perfect world.
We have 6 employees out pruning our blueberries. It takes them about 3 months to prune all the blueberries which is nice for them so they can have year-round work. Next they go prune the apples. Every year we have to decide how aggressive to prune the blueberries. If we prune really hard we will get fewer but bigger berries but if we prune too light, then we will have lots of really small berries which is not the best. So we usually shoot for the middle ground.
When we start pruning a blueberry bush, the first thing we do is look at the base of the plant and see if there are any new growth whips that are too small to keep. We cut them off at the ground. Next we look to the middle of the bush. It is important for blueberries to have light and air flow in the middle of the bush (plus makes it easier to pick later) so we take out any branches that cross through the middle horizontally or thin out any areas in the middle that are really compact with branches. It is most efficient to identify if there are any whole stems/branches you can cut out first because you might as well not thin the top of the plant, then decide later, that you want to take out that whole stem and branch anyway. Next we look to the top of the bush and thin that out.
The picture to the left is of a branch that has not been pruned yet. The very end of the branch needs pruned off because it is a brown dead branch anyway. Then next we would have to decide how many shoots off the main branch we would take off. Since these are Liberty blueberries and our goal this year is to grow our plants bigger, we would prune some of those side branches off. Hopefully the plant will not have to share so much energy with producing all the small berries, that some of the energy can go into plant growth. Also, the smaller the thickness of the side branch, the less size of fruit it will produce, so we take those off first. Hopefully all this makes sense. Hard to explain when I can't point exactly at things.
It also depends on how hard you prune by what variety of blueberry you have. We have 3 different varieties and each is different. In our Dukes, that are finicky to grow, if we get any new growth from the bottom we are lucky, so we DO NOT cut it off because it is precious. But in a Liberty blueberry field, we have tons of new shoots (growth) coming from the bottom so we will be more aggressive and take quite a bit off.
We also had our blueberry fields limed recently. If you were to see the fields, you would have thought it snowed! I don't know if you have ever driven by some open dirt fields and they are covered in white and you wonder what it is. They have been limed too. Lime is a naturally occurring product that farmers apply to keep their fields at a pH that is best for their specific crops. Blueberries are very picky about what pH the soil needs to be at in order to grow well.
We usually apply lime if we change the crop we grow on our land. For instance, when we are growing grass seed, those fields usually stay in at least 3 years so for 3 years we don't have a chance to apply lime. So the year that grass field is taken out, we would apply lime that year because we have the chance to incorporate it into the soil.
Between educational meetings, checking on the blueberry pruning, and making decisions for the coming season, we also like to do some organizing around the farm in the winter. This year we are focusing on our storage areas. With farming, there are so many diverse things we do and we have extra parts or leftover supplies from everything. We are always trying to figure out ways to organize it well, or what things can we get rid of or will need in the future. And what things we should get rid of or keep is always debatable between the generations :)
Speaking of organizing, I better get back at it!