The Accidental Blackberry Farmer
It’s not unusual for an interest to turn into a business. That’s what happened to Robert Hays of Hays Blackberry Farms. Bob loved blackberries, and a gift of 6 blackberry plants in 1999, were the beginning of what is today, a 10,000+ blackberry farm in Dumas, Mississippi.
We thoroughly enjoyed this interview with Bob Hays and think you will too. Bob’s got years of hands on experience to share and he loves doing it.
Grab your coffee… or maybe some blackberry tea and settle in with us to learn…
How to Start a Blackberry Farm in Your Backyard
This interview is in four parts. Originally, it was to be four shorter videos, however I wasn’t up on the fact that our video recording service had changed their system so for now this is all batched into one, however, we’re adding timing markers so you can scan to the sections you’re most interested in, or that you need to review again, if you don’t have time to watch the entire interview at once.
Growing Blackberries for Profit
Part 1 of 4 — 0 – 44:40 minutes
In this first part of the interview (the video is below the two photos below this outline), Bob shares how he accidentally became a blackberry farmer, and…
- How he got started selling for profit
- Where he made his first sales
- Why he doesn’t fertilize his blackberries yet gets more yield per bush
- Why he doesn’t prune his plants
- Why blackberry farming is really hard work
- How many hours per week to tend 1 acre of blackberries
- How much time to cut the grass on 6 acres of blackberry crops
- Insects that afflict blackberries
- How many gallons of blackberries per plant
- What kind of mulch Bob uses
- How many pickers (laborers) Bob uses
- How much he pays blackberry pickers
- How much he pays his Farmer’s Market workers
- Where Bob finds his farm laborers and blackberry pickers
- How it’s essential to diversity your crops and what else Bob is growing and plans to grow
- Some other fun stuff Bob has planned on his property
- What kind of license is needed to sell at Farmer’s Markets
- Hays Berry Farms exports frozen blackberries internationally
- Bob’s food safety policy is to blend the most strict requirements on the market into his own version, such as the Iowa Checklist on Food Certification.1)https://dia.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2016/01/temporary_food_service_establishments.pdf
We like Bob’s common sense approach to quality control:
“My customers are my boss.”
Growing Blackberries for Profit with Bob Hays
Interview with Robert Hays of Hays Berry Farms and Coleman Alderson and LeAura Alderson of GardensAll.com
Best Blackberries Variety to Grow
Part 2 of 4 — 44 min – 1:13 hrs
Robert Hays, Blackberry farmer and consultant, shares more in this segment on the nitty gritty of what it takes to grow blackberries for profit. In this segment, you’ll learn…
- Best all-around blackberry to grow
- Best 4 blackberries to grow
- Sweetest varieties of blackberries
- Tartest blackberries best for wine
- Thornless blackberries
- Exotic white blackberry2)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_blackberry
- Blackberries for natural sunscreen
- Largest blackberries
- Blackberry production by variety
- Which blackberries attract stink bugs for natural pest control (from there, easy to place in soap water, or, you could try pheromone bags there)
- How many hours of cold blackberries need to produce properly
- How to include crops that extend your growing season and protect you from weather hazards
- How to diversify your crops by planting to prepare for the inevitability of crop failure
- Best mulch, and how Bob gets his free
- How high temperatures can destroy your crops needed for berries to begin ripening
Organic Pest Control for Blackberries
Part 3 of 4 — 1:13 – 1:26 hours
Bob started out as an organic blackberry grower, lost his certification because of an unfortunate incident out of his control, and regains it again in summer of 2017. However, he’s continued to grow and manage his farm using the strictest organic guidelines.
One of the challenges with organic farming is that you cannot use animals such as chickens to eat the bugs, or cats and dogs to chase away other critters. So Bob has learned which pest control is most effective for which kind of garden or orchard pest and now uses a variety of pest control tools. In this segment, Bob covers…
Natural Blackberry Pest Control
- Top 3 blackberry insect pests
- Bob’s number 1 pest control is a surprise, (we were anyway) that takes care of the top 3 pests
- Pest control is best for thrips, leaf miners and aphids (attracted to blue)
- Aphids and leaf rollers (attracted to yellow)
- Fruit flies and apply moths (attracted to red)
- Spotted winged (also attracted to red)
- Additional insect control, lady bugs, praying mantis, parasitic wasps, (though minuscule compared to Bob’s top best pest control)
- How many pest control devices are needed and how Bob places them
- A little bit on picker and U-pick management
We forgot to ask about issues with birds, so offline, Bob shared that his…
Worse pests are turkeys and deer. For the deer, Bob has a year-round hunting license however, there can be no deer felled anywhere near the berries.
However, the turkeys are protected and there’s nothing he’s found that’s worked to thwart turkeys from their determination to eat blackberries. So if you’ve discovered any great tips for keeping turkeys away from your crops, please share the in the comments here or on the Gardens All Facebook page.
Part 4 of 4 — 1:26 – 2:20 hours
Bob Hays keeps track of all the he grows, what works and what doesn’t. He’s found that what works for some, may not be what works best for him, but in particular, many growers tend to just go with what their extension service tells them. However, there is often more current and relevant processes that work better. In this last segment of the interview, we discuss…
Best practices for optimal blackberry production…
- Best way to trellis blackberries for maximum production
- Best direction to face berry trellises
- Why Bob doesn’t prune his blackberries, and he gets bigger yields
- Color coding row posts to make it easy to keep track of your varieties
- How Bob let’s his plants “walk”, and why he doesn’t use black plastic
- Bob’s oldest bushes planted in 1999 are still producing 17 years later
- Bob’s average blackberry yield per plant compared to market average
- Blackberry prices per gallon – Hays Berry Farms
- 1/3 fruit production in year one… full production by year 3
- When are blackberries ripe and when to pick blackberries
- How many gallons Bob expects for his 10,000 plants in full production (you can make a good living from this)!
- Hays Farms most lucrative sales outlets
- Blackberries price per gallon
- Pitfalls for running your own business and how to prepare for
- Cost percentage of operating Hays Berry Farms organically
- Bob’s biggest farm expense
- Average, non-organic farm expenses range between 25-30% in expenses
Be patient… Don’t get discouraged!
Also, learn the origin of the scarecrow and other farming lore as Bob shares some of his knowledge acquired from auto-didactic study of ancient farming practices.
What Makes Blackberries Sweet Versus Sour?
If you are getting excessive amounts of rain or watering too much it draws the sugar out of blackberries. The same thing happens with watermelons. If you pick a watermelon up to 10 days after a rain or watering it won’t be sweet. It takes a dry spell to make them sweeter. The sun needs to shine so leaves will convert to energy to make berries get ripe and sweeter. Also it may depend on the variety of berry you have. Some will never be sweet but kind of bland and one variety is so tart that you have to add a teaspoon of sugar per berry to eat them.
Oh!… and we also touched on…
Added Value Products from Blackberries – Blackberry Leaf Tea
Bob’s gearing up to make more things for sale. Right now he’s selling:
- Blackberry honey
- Blackberry leaves for tea and cooking
- Pepper honey (Bob’s newest product coming up)
- Mint honey (Bob’s newest product coming up)
Bob has beehives on his property and sells blackberry honey. This year he’s expanding into a pepper honey and a mint honey. The Hays Berry Farms honey sells for $72 per gallon.
We really appreciate Bob’s generous sharing so much from his hands on experience of being a blackberry farmer. If you have any interest in consulting with Bob for your growing endeavors, he is available for consultations.
Speaking of consultations. Bob’s next stop for that is Morocco!
Please let us know how you enjoyed this interview and any questions you might have for Bob. If you enjoyed this interview with Bob, then you may also enjoy the follow up interview about how to sell more at Farmer’s Markets.
If you’d like to connect with an entire community of folks focused on growing for profit, you may be interested in the Planting for Retirement Facebook group.
References [ + ]