Sunday, November 3, 2019

Growing Berries in the North Country

a new strawberry variety created by Cornell courtesy Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life SciencesThere are several types of cultivated berries grown in Northern New York. Among the most popular are strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, although several other minor fruits (e.g. currants, gooseberries) are grown, as well.

Starter plants are relatively inexpensive and, once established, the plantings are reasonably easy to maintain. They last for years and the fruit is incredibly flavorful when picked fresh.

What’s more, you can make some pretty good money growing berries. In fact, berries can return the highest dollar value per square foot of any garden crop that you can plant.

Before you dive in, however, there are a lot of factors that require consideration. First, you need to choose the best possible site and varieties. Soil type can greatly affect plant growth and susceptibility or resistance to insects and diseases. So can weather conditions. For example, berry crops don’t like ‘wet feet’ and are rather susceptible to diseases associated with wet soil conditions. What’s more, the preferred conditions for say, strawberries and raspberries, are quite different than those for blueberries.

Professor of entomology Greg Loeb works with doctoral students at a Cornell AgriTech strawberry low tunnel field courtesy Justin Muir; Cornell UniversityAnd what about planting times, spacing, mulching, pruning, training, weed management, pests and pesticides (insects, diseases, birds, animals, weeds), intermixing fruit plantings with vegetable and flower gardens, turf, and landscape plants; and if you plan to sell at least some of your berries, marketing and economics.

There just might be a little more to growing berries than you realize. For example, knowledge of the selected growing site’s history and weed pressure, and the techniques used for controlling specific weeds in established plantings, along with an understanding of cover crop management before planting, can significantly improve production efficiency.

Then there’s the use of disease resistant cultivars, which cannot be emphasized enough. The most widely acknowledged disease resistant hybrid berry varieties are the result of decades, sometimes centuries, of improvements made possible through natural selection and breeding. They offer superior flavor, texture, and color, and can be grown by home gardeners and small scale producers with moderate ease. They’re popular with consumers and widely utilized by the food processing industry.

Interestingly enough, a number of the smaller market and home gardeners that I’ve talked with over the years say they take little or no action to manage insects in berry plantings. Some claim that intermixing fruit plantings with vegetable and flower gardens, landscape plants, and / or turf helps keep insect populations at readily manageable levels. This type of companion planting appears to reduce the spread of disease organisms as well, which gives home and smaller scale market gardeners a distinct advantage over larger commercial growers.

In fact, with few exceptions, larger berry plantings always require some pesticide treatment to control disease. The pesticides needed and the frequency of application depends on the cultivars. Commercial growers generally rely on scouting, knowledge of pathogens and disease biology, sanitation and other specific cultural practices, and the use of pesticide applications or biological agents, as needed.

Adult spotted-wing drosophila (SWD) on blueberry courtey Tim Martinson; Cornell AgriTechProper management is essential for successful production (and marketing) of high quality fruit. Insect pests, diseases, and weeds can all quickly become costly problems for growers of every ability. But insects, diseases, and weeds can all be controlled. And retired Extension Specialist for Eastern New York, Amy Ivy, can show you how. This is a great chance to learn from and meet with a highly-respected horticulturist and an opportunity to share your ideas and concerns with Amy, Jessica, the Bonesteels, and other gardeners and producers.

Whether you’re a seasoned berry grower or just considering growing berries at home, you won’t want to miss this event. We look forward to seeing you there.

On Saturday November 9th, from 10 am to noon, you’ll have an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of home garden and small scale berry production, when Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Franklin County and Bonesteel’s Gardening Center, in North Bangor, welcome retired CCE Regional Horticulture Specialist Amy Ivy, for a morning of relaxed, informal learning and casual, lively discussion. This is an exceptional opportunity to ask questions and share experiences about varieties, fruit quality, cultural practices (site selection, establishment, maintenance), pest management, and harvest and handling; and to examine the techniques and marketing methods used by North Country growers, themselves. CCE Community Educator Jessica Prosper, who will also be there, can serve as a resource for information and assistance related to regulations, small farm operations, alternative agriculture, and diversification.

This event will be held at Bonesteel’s Gardening Center, 2689 State Route 11; North Bangor, and cost $10. For more information call (518) 483-7403 or email To register, click here.

Photos, from above: a new strawberry variety, Dickens, recently released by Cornell’s berry breeding program, courtesy Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Professor of entomology Greg Loeb works with doctoral students at a Cornell AgriTech strawberry low tunnel field courtesy Justin Muir; Cornell University; Adult spotted-wing drosophila (SWD) on a blueberry courtesy Tim Martinson; Cornell AgriTech.

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Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.

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