In an earlier post, I described my enjoyable and enlightening visit with Ann Seigies at Bramberi Farm, her organic berry farm in Lumpkin County. Ann and her husband, Joern, are producing plentiful and healthful crops without the use of dangerous pesticides or commercial fertilizers.
One of the natural methods of insect control mentioned in that post is hand-picking. As we walked among rows of berries, Ann continually picked up and snuffed insects that were damaging her plants. Much less efficient than spraying with poisonous insecticides, the practice nevertheless keeps the produce safe for human consumption and doesn’t kill the harmless insects that pollinate the blossoms. (If the thought of crushing bugs in your hands gives you the creeps, consider doing it with gloves.)
Since it’s impossible to grab every hungry insect, Ann and Joern also recruit some help from insects that dine on the pests. “Beneficial” predators like syrphid flies and ladybugs can be purchased and released in the garden. However, home gardeners should be aware that some predators, like mantids and assassin bugs do not discriminate and will consume any insects they encounter, including your favorite pollinators and other helpful predators. (In that respect they resemble a broad-spectrum insecticide.) Except for serious infestations, hand-picking insect pests is probably the best control method for small gardens. You’ll miss some bugs of course, but a few will not destroy your garden; think of them as bird food.
Some important tips I gathered from Ann on blueberry culture:
1. They require a strongly acidic soil; check the Ph and adjust as necessary.
2. Full sun and good drainage are also fundamental; blueberries will not tolerate wet soil for long.
3. Plant three or more varieties suitable to your area.
4. Mulch with pine bark. Hardwood mulch can harbor diseases. A few years ago 200 blueberry bushes were wiped out at Bramberi Farm.
5. Although commercial growers sometimes use vinegar to kill weeds and acidify soil around blueberries, home gardeners should educate themselves before using this method and proceed with caution, as vinegar that is too strong a solution or applied inexpertly may do more harm than good to both plants and gardeners. https://www.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/publication/?seqNo115=195808
Ann showed me some blueberry bushes, already on the property when Seigieses purchased it, that had been infected with a fungal disease called “mummy berry” (Monilina vaccinii-corymbosi), rendering the fruit worthless. The common name is based on the appearance of affected berries, which look as though they’d been wrapped in white shrouds. Fortunately, resistant blueberry cultivars are available.
Ann and Joern have found that raspberries do especially well in hoop houses, which protect them from overwatering by excessive rainfall and scorching by overexposure to direct sunlight.
All caneberries are planted in raised beds and watered by drip irrigation, and the surrounding soil is covered with thick silt fence material and mulch to discourage weeds and insulate the soil from extreme temperatures.
For more information about Bramberi Farm and its naturally grown products, visit http://www.bramberifarm.com/