Wednesday, May 11, 2011

End-of-April 2011 Crop Mob (Kestrel Perch Berry Farm)- Recap & Photos!

Thanks to Sam Bosco for the photos!  Got pictures or stories to share? Comment below or email us at 

"When any lagged behind, the cry of "blueberries" was most effectual to bring them up."
- Henry David Thoreau

It's been a wet spring- really. Record rainfall for April (more than double the average) has left many Ithaca farms behind schedule or simply unable to plant anything yet (check out the Ithaca Journal for an article on this subject). Wet soil compacts easily, so even walking on it, let alone driving machinery on it, is risky. All the water and humidity can breed disease too. Thankfully, we're experiencing some sunny, dry days now in the beginning/middle of May.

At Kestrel Perch Berry Farm on West Hill in Ithaca, things were wet (just-dug holes filling up with water, low-lying parts an utter mudslide), but plantable for the most part. It's times like these that give many of us in the crop mob purpose- the feeling that we're delivering some emergency help to a farm in need. On April 30th, the Crop Mob came together to give some love and planting help to Katie Creeger of Kestrel Perch Berry Farm.

Katie Creeger says: There are 8 steps to a blueberry bush. Weed, Mark, Gypsum, Dig, Gel, Plant, and Mulch.

1. Weed. First we tackled the competition--wintercress, bedstraw, purple dead nettle-- in the blueberry rows.

2. Mark out where the blueberry bushes will go. These blueberries were going in about 4 1/2 feet apart. Big colorful popsicle sticks/tongue depressors are pretty useful in farming...

3. Spread gypsum over the mark
Kestrel Perch has some clay in its soil, and blueberries dig a well-drained spot. Gypsum's main purpose is to penetrate clay particles in heavy soil or the layer of hard subsoil and create spaces for air and moisture, which loosens the soil structure*.

4. Dig holes where marked. Holes must be wide enough for the roots to spread out as they would naturally.

5. Mix in compost. Another thing about blueberries- they're very particular about pH. While pretty much all fruits prefer a slightly acidic soil, blueberries do even more so. In order for blueberry plants to produce berries, the soil pH needs to be between 4.5 and 5.2**. Your typical finished compost runs a bit alkaline for the taste of blueberries, so acid compost- typically a mixture of peat, pine needles, and pine bark; sometimes acidic composted bracken fern is used as a substitute for peat. We mixed the acid compost with the surrounding soil, being sure to cover with soil because compost left on the top of the soil can invite water to the surface, where it evaporates.

6. Dip roots in water-retaining gel. Though it doesn't seem like it now, water may become a precious commodity as the season goes on, and blueberries need constant access to moisture, especially in their first year, to form healthy root systems.

7. Plant in the marked holes. This is the fun part! We grabbed our Jersey, Reka, and Liberty variety blueberries and plugged them in- not too deep, not too shallow; soil tamped around the roots; drip irrigation tubes on top. Diversity yields a longer season and a safeguard against catastrophe!

8. Mulch with pine needles- mulch conserves water, builds organic material, and in the case of pine needles, adds to the acidity of the soil. When we ran out of pine needles, we switched to woodchips.

Getting the job done:

 More pictures can be found on Ithaca Crop Mob's Facebook page.

After getting in all the blueberries (as many as the drier beds could hold!), we sat down for a lovingly farmer-prepared meal of hearty soup, a microgreens/tahini salad, baguette, and a berry dessert- raspberries, strawberries, and currants from last year, with whipped cream on top... yum.

We've been having some big mobs this year- 40-some people helped out for this one! Thanks to all who came out. Join us this Saturday, May 15th, for our next mob in Cayutaville- a 100% working member-CSA, or, as they call themselves, an "Agriculture-Supported Community." Email for more info and to get on our email listserv!

See you at the next mob!

Kate, Sam and Rachel

* A quick guide to gypsum's agricultural uses

** A short, readable guide to growing blueberries for the beginner

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