Guide to Farming: Small Fruits

The term “small fruit” includes many of the berry crops such as blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries among others.
Guide to Farming: Small Fruits - Articles

Updated: September 23, 2017

Guide to Farming: Small Fruits

It may take some different management skills if you have never produced a berry crop as berries have a short shelf-life from harvest to sales.

Many small fruit are readily found growing wild in rural areas. However; because they will grow wild with no cultivation does not mean that you will be able to produce a quality, marketable crop with little effort. In reality, if these berries are growing wild close to the area where you plan to grow the same crop, your first task should be to remove the wild bushes prior to planting your bushes. These wild berries harbor diseases that will impact your production and will require you to treat your bushes to have a disease free crop.

Blackberries

Blackberries bushes have either thorns or no thorns. For ease of harvest, blackberry bushes without thorns are quickly becoming the cultivars of choice. Newer thornless cultivars are being developed for better flavor than thornless cultivars from years ago. Blackberry bushes, like most berry bushes will be productive for many years with proper training and care.

Blueberries

Blueberries grow wild in the hills and mountains of Pennsylvania (PA). Blueberries require an acidic soil and applying sulfur a year before planting may be required to lower your soil pH to 4.5 to 5.0. If your native soil is 6.2 or above, planting blueberries is not recommended for your area. If you plant blueberries, mulching with old sawdust is recommended to maintain the low soil pH. You will also need to plant at least two cultivars for pollination.

You will need to wait a minimum of three years before harvesting your first crop of blueberries and remove the berries the first year they appear, usually the second or third year after planting. Removing the berries the first year they appear will help to better establish the bush and will benefit you for many years to come as blueberry bushes will remain viable for 15 years or more with proper maintenance.

Grapes

Grapes come in at least three categories, juice, wine, and table with some cultivars having multiple uses. Juice grape cultivars may be Concord and Niagara however, other cultivars may be used for juice. These cultivars may also be used to make wine, will yield the most production per acre, and make up the majority of the production in Pennsylvania. Winery owners prefer cultivars specifically produced for wine making.

Wine grape production usually comes from viniferous and hybrid cultivars and wineries may produce wine from a single cultivar or a blend. Many wine grape growers do not make wine but sell their production to wineries.

Vineyard owners spend considerable time in site selection, planning, and layout of the vineyard as it will be viable for over 20 years. Pruning and training take considerable time. A benefit of grape production is that the training system may be changed with limited reduction in production.

Table grape production is relatively new in Pennsylvania and production is primarily by growers who are producing for direct marketing through roadside stands and farmer's market sales. Table grapes may be produced cheaper in other areas of the country or world but the buy local movement has made production and sales more appealing to Pennsylvania growers. Local production draws customers to purchase products from the producers they know and table grapes are a good example of this.

Raspberries

Raspberries come in a variety of colors (black, red, and yellow) and may be harvested either in the early or late summer months, depending on the training method. When conducting your market research you should determine when the majority of the local producers are marketing their crops and when your best marketing opportunity will be.

Strawberries

Strawberries are a very adaptable crop. They are produced in the field using a matted-row or plasticulture system. They may also be produced in a high tunnel system for off-season marketing. Floating row covers may be used in field grown production to have the berries mature earlier and also to reduce the potential for frost damage. Overhead irrigation is also used for frost protection. Each system produces its own challenges and rewards. Again, your marketing research and labor force should determine your production methods.

Strawberries may also be harvested at various times throughout the summer months. June-bearing cultivars are just as their name implies. They are harvested in early to mid-June, depending on production practices. Other cultivars, usually called ever-bearing, may be harvested throughout the summer months. However, they will have times (usually June and August) when the yield is much higher than other times.

Pests

Wildlife is always a concern when producing small fruits, especially birds. Many producers us netting to protect blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. Penn State Extension has a web site covering controlling birds on fruit crops.

Insects are becoming a primary concern for small fruits. The Spotted Winged Drosophila is an insect that usually arrives in late summer. Due to this late arrival, many producers are choosing earlier maturing cultivars when planting small fruits. The increase in insecticide costs to treat for this insect in later maturing cultivars is usually a drain on the profitability of the crop. You should keep this in mind when deciding on cultivars and production methods.

A source of information for small fruit crops is the Mid-Atlantic Berry Guide for Commercial Growers. The guide provides specific production practices and treatment recommendations for many insects and diseases. Anyone producing small fruit will benefit from this resource.

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Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education

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